Inside the Sixers: LeBron James has responded to criticism with class - and otherworldly athleticism

LeBron James (6) is shown before the Heat NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York, Sunday, March 3, 2013. (Kathy Willens/AP)
LeBron James (6) is shown before the Heat NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York, Sunday, March 3, 2013. (Kathy Willens/AP)
Posted: March 09, 2013

MIAMI - I always knew that the hatred and vitriol directed at LeBron James following his and the Miami Heat's loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals would not take long to dissipate.

To begin with, unless you are fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers - the team James infamously and awkwardly left via free agency in the summer of 2010 - why should you have even cared that he chose to cut and run to South Beach?

But after watching James play dazed and confused against the Mavs two years ago, I knew that the bitter learning experience and the ensuing, often over-the-top attacks on James would be the nudge to push him to play the game at a far higher level, and eventually into a comparison with Michael Jordan.

Jordan wins that comparison right now, but James' story is just being rewritten.

I say rewritten rather than written because James, 28, is not only playing at the highest level that we have seen from him in nine seasons, but he is restructuring the prism though which we view him.

James will likely lead the Heat (45-14) past the 76ers (23-37) on Friday for the 13th consecutive time and extend the Heat's current franchise-best winning streak - which began Feb. 3 - to 17 games.

James has been fantastic to watch during the streak, averaging 28.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.6 assists on 60.7 percent shooting.

I never doubted that this wonderful genetic freak of fast-twitch muscle fiber and sinew would get to this point. The 6-foot-8 James, conservatively listed at 250 pounds, is by far the greatest combination of power, speed, grace, and basketball IQ to ever play the game.

But what has astounded me is the professionalism and class he exudes.

Look, there's James and his Heat teammates donning hoodies in honor of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

There's James, in a random explosion of euphoria, running over and bear-hugging Michael Drysch, a perfect stranger who had just nailed a half-court shot that put $75,000 into his pocket. James didn't know whether the guy was one of his legions of haters or not. He just felt good for the guy.

Selfish and self-absorbed, you say? Well, you'd never know it by his answer when asked on Thursday whether the Heat's current winning streak is more impressive than the Chicago Blackhawks' streak of 24 games without a regulation loss.

James deferred to the Blackhawks, pointing out that they've had their success without the benefit of a training camp because of the NHL lockout.

The Sixers have lost 10 of their last 11 games, and a loss Friday would extend their road losing streak to 12 games. So looking past the Sixers under these circumstances is something the Heat are almost expected to do. A win would tie the Heat for the 12th longest winning streak of all time.

But James and the Heat aren't preoccupied with regular-season streaks. While nice to have, they are little more than a precursor to the postseason.

And that is how we are judging and will continue to judge James.


Contact John N. Mitchell at jmitchell@philly.com. Follow on Twitter @jmitchinquirer.

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