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Interview with Miami Heat Star Forward LeBron James

Aired October 26, 2012 - 05:30:00   ET


STAN GRANT, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN INTERNATIONAL: (voiceover): He's known as "King James". And he's widely considered to be one of the greatest ever to play the game of basketball. Named the NBA's Most Valuable Player three times, LeBron James has also led the USA to two Olympic gold medals. For the Miami Heat forward, the road to sporting success wasn't a smooth one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The new king of South Beach, LeBron James, tells the world he's leaving Cleveland -

GRANT (voiceover): In 2010, he made the decision to leave his former team to join NBA All-Stars, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, in Miami.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- give the Heat a mini dream team. Meanwhile -

GRANT (voiceover): A decision that saw him walk out on his home-state team and upset fans across the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like the heart was ripped out of the Cavs.

GRANT (voiceover): But the move wasn't easy for LeBron, either. The basketball pro shot to fame in Ohio, playing for his high school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is the most famous player in the draft. He has the most attention.

GRANT (voiceover): And was the number one pick in the 2003 NBA draft. Bypassing university to join the Cavaliers at just 18. But he never won an NBA Championship in Cleveland, leading to his infamous decision to leave.

Now, wearing a Heat jersey, he is an NBA champion at last. Leading Miami to NBA victory last June, beating out the Oklahoma Thunder for the title he coveted more than any other.

This week, "Talk Asia" catches LeBron James on a three-season tour in China to find out if he's going to bring another title home this year.


GRANT: LeBron James, welcome to "Talk Asia". And welcome to China. You've been here, what? This is your tenth time now?

LEBRON JAMES, FORWARD, MIAMI HEAT: Yes, I'm getting close to 10. I'm at nine, but, you know, this always a great experience to be here and, you know, to do the things that I've been able to do. I'm here and it's been great.

GRANT: There's so much change in China isn't there? I mean, every time you come back, you must see something different?

JAMES: Yes. I mean, it is. You know, this, you know, it continues to grow. It continues to build each and every time I come here. But I think the one constant denominator about being here in China is how inspiring and how passionate the people are here. Especially these kids about the game of basketball. And, you know, that's the one thing that I love about it. You know, being able to see them. You know, their passion, their love.

GRANT: How does that compare to The States? Do you think that people here are even - because China has just blossomed over the past 20 years - that people have been exposed to so many new things - that there's a different sort of passion here? Perhaps a greater passion?

JAMES: Well, I think it's a different kind of passion from The States. Because, you know, in The States, we've had the game for a while. You know, we invented the game of basketball and we've seen in grow, you know, each and every year to where it is now, today. And we've been able to see it live.

You know, here, in China, they haven't seen the game as much up close and personal like we've been able to experience in The States. So, they're always excited about the game, no matter where it's played, no matter how it's played, what level it's played at. And you can have a great deal of respect for that.

GRANT: And basketball, in this case, but sport in general really opens doors, doesn't it? It brings people together in a way that not many other things can. Do you really feel as if you're more than just a sportsman when you come here, you're an ambassador?

JAMES: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. You know, and I like carrying that responsibility, being an ambassador for the U.S. as far as the game of basketball. As far as sport in general. And, just like you said, you know, the game of basketball brings so many people together, you know, because it's a team game. It's a team aspect of it and when you're around guys or guys are around friends and friends are around so many, you know, people -

GRANT: And it doesn't matter whether you don't speak the same language. When you're on the court -

JAMES: It doesn't matter. Exactly, exactly. When you're on the court, every one speaks the same language.


JAMES: You know, it is amazing to see how people can come together with just, you know, the game of basketball.

GRANT: You know, you travel a lot. You're exposed to so many different people. It's election time, right now, in the U.S. China, you know, this China - U.S. relationship can be seen as sometimes a very tense one.

JAMES: Right.

GRANT: Very often, a lot of fear about China. Do you think that fear is warranted?

JAMES: Well, I mean, for me, I can speak for my experiences being here. You know, and like I said, this is my ninth time in, you know, this country. And every city I've been to inside of China has welcomed me with open arms. You know, and I've been fortunate enough to be here, you know, either playing a game of basketball or teaching or inspiring the game of basketball. And, you know, it's been some great opportunities for me and it's been some great, you know, times with a lot of kids here just love the game of basketball.

GRANT: And they're good.


GRANT: There's some good young players.

JAMES: Yes. And you give a lot of credit to guys like - to, like, Yao.


JAMES: And, to, like, Yi.


JAMES: You know, so many of those guys that, you know, kids see those guys in their backyard and they start to dream, "Oh wow, that could be me". You know, so you give a lot of credit.

GRANT: Yao was a huge breakthrough, wasn't he?

JAMES: Big time, big time.

GRANT: And not just because of what he represented, but because he was a hell of a player.

JAMES: Absolutely. You know, and that's the most inspiring thing. Not only was, you know, Yao in their backyard, he also could really play the game, you know, at a high level.


JAMES: You know, so that definitely helps a lot of kids mind as far as saying, you know, "I can do this and I can do it at a high level".

GRANT: Last year, Jeremy Lin really captured people's imagination. And I think being an Asian-American, it was such a different story. All of that "Linsanity" - it hit a bit of a speed bump when he played you guys, though, didn't he?


GRANT: I mean, you know, it wasn't one of his best games. He was soaring high, he played you guys, he came back down to earth a bit. What's it going to be like for him this season, do you think, after so much attention last year?

JAMES: I think it's going to be great. I mean, I think, you know, the opportunity he was given in New York, he took full advantage of it and, you know, he's a really good player. You know, so I think a lot of people are looking forward to seeing him continue to grow as a player now, being in Houston where Yao was, so we know he's going to have a lot of support down there form his teammates, from the community and, you know, a lot of people are looking forward to it and Houston should be, you know, excited about having him.

GRANT: It's going to be tough, though, isn't it? Because so many expectations. How good is he, as a player?

JAMES: I think he's really good. You know, you get, you know a lot of the hype and you get a lot of the press, you know, it's built some way. You know, it wasn't built on him not going out there and performing at a high level. So, you know, I think the expectation is his high for him, but, you know, you can tell he loves the game. You know, and that's the best thing about it.


GRANT: Everyone's really focused on the big three. You know, yourself, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh. You're all competitive guys. Who's the best?




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The headline in the Miami Herald this morning, "Kings". And, as you mention, LeBron getting his ring, finally. Silencing all his critics and, last night, after the game was over, sheer bedlam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- I'm so proud of my dude, LeBron. Finally got his ring.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ray got his second ring.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ray got his second ring. It's so great. This is the happiest day of my life.


GRANT: Silencing a lot of critics who said, you know, "Is this ever going to happen?"

JAMES: Right.

GRANT: Does that take a bit of the pressure off you for this season?

JAMES: Well, I mean, I think it adds even more.

GRANT: Really?


JAMES: Because the expectations now rises to another level. You know, "Is he going to win more than one? Can he repeat? Can he do this again?" But for me as a player, you know, while everyone else is saying, "Can he do this?", I kind of just challenge myself. I'm my own biggest critic and, you know, I put more pressure on myself than anyone else can give me. So, I look forward to it.

GRANT: A lot of good judges of the game had said that you'd adapted your game a little bit. You'd become a much more efficient player. Rather than going for the big play all the time, there was a consistency. Is that something you've been aware of, changing your game a little bit?

JAMES: Well, I think that's just the culture of basketball that I grew up playing. Ever since I was a kid and my little league coaches, throughout middle school and throughout high school. You know, we were an efficient team. You know, there was never, you know, one guy was bigger than another. Now I know I always more. A lot of the press and I got a lot of the limelight, but I always wanted to be part of a team game.

You know, so being efficient has always been a part of my game. And you could see - once you be a part of the NBA as a rookie - you're not so efficient because you're learning the game, but over the years, you know, I started to see ways I can get better as an individual.

GRANT: You've also said that the team can get better. That's a pretty scary prospect. But you said this team has a lot more improvement.

JAMES: Absolutely. You know, another year of experience has helped us and we've added some really good players. You know, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, and you know, two guys that we know can play at a high level so, you know, we're going to be a really good team, but we have to take the necessary steps to get to that point.

GRANT: Because everyone's really focused on the big three. Haven't they? You know, yourself, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh. But it's more than that.

JAMES: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And, like I said, we know we get most of the headlines and, you know, we just try to make sure that we take all the headlines and take the pressure off our other guys and hopefully, people do forget about , you know, the guys that come in and help us win ball games each and every night.

GRANT: How difficult is it, you know, to bring a team together? You know, we often hear this thing - you know, a champion team will beat a team of champions.

JAMES: Right.

GRANT: How difficult is it to get a team of champions? Three great players and you've mentioned the others who've joined now. Getting to be able to play together -

JAMES: Well, I think it's all about sacrifice. That's the number one word. You have to sacrifice something. I think, at one point in all our careers, we were the number one guy on our respective team. And, you know, you have to be able to make sacrifice for the better of the team and that's what we've been able to do in our first two years together and now heading to our third year.

GRANT: Talk about the Olympics for you. You know, I've mentioned the title ring you got. Do the Olympics compare with that? Was that a very different experience?

JAMES: No, it definitely compares with it. But I think it's a different experience of the aspect of not only - you know, with the title ring, you're representing your community, you represent that team. You represent, you know, maybe that state. But when you go switch over to the Olympics, you're representing everyone. Everyone that had anything to do with the United States of America.

GRANT: And it's a world stage.

JAMES: Right.

GRANT: Isn't it?

JAMES: Right.

GRANT: That's the thing.

JAMES: It's the biggest stage.


JAMES: You know, it's countries, you know, competing against other countries for the right to, you know, win gold medals and, you know, win medals to, you know, say that you represented your country the right way. So it is a different level.

GRANT: And we've mentioned before how difficult it is to bring players together in a team who are great. But here, everyone's great. And you were seen - people have said this - you were seen as a team leader. You were seen as someone who would be able to be a figurehead for that team. What's that like? Playing for a team of - everyone is a fantastic player? But being able to bring that together.

JAMES: Well, I mean, it's an honor, first of all, to be able to, you know, be given that title from, you know, either your peers, your teammates, your coaching staff, and, you know, people to recognize that. It's an honor and it's very humbling. You know, so, you know, for me, I just try to do what I wanted to do and know, you know, as a leader, you have to make sure these guys are in the right positions, you have to talk to them, but also, you know, you can't be afraid , you know, when things come back to you as well.


JAMES: So I never made myself too high or too small. You know, I kept myself level with the rest of the team and, you know, we were all excited about being able to represent our country and win another gold medal.

GRANT: You know, humility's one thing, but you know, you're all competitive guys, right? Who's the best?


JAMES: I mean, what -

GRANT: You've never been shy about -

JAMES: I mean, with a team like that, I mean, it's 12 of the best guys in the world.


JAMES: You know, and we all feel like we're the best. You know, and rightfully so. That's why we're there. You know, we're the best at what we do and to be able to bring all that, you know, confidence and ego, you know, in a good way -

GRANT: Yes, yes.

JAMES: -- to that team, you know, is a real treat.

GRANT: If you were a general manager and - obviously, taking yourself out of the picture, here - you were looking for a player to build a team around, and you've played with great players - who would that be?

JAMES: I believe Kevin Durant is a really great player. You know, someone that you can build your team around and start from the ground up and you're going to be, you know, very excited about having him.

GRANT: Phil Jackson, legendary coach, has said - and he's not the only one to say this - you could be better than Jordan. Do you think that? You know, you measure yourself against -

JAMES: Right. Well, for me, you know, growing up and Jordan being, like, you know, an idol to me and, you know, he inspired to play this game. So, for people - for colleagues, for, you know, coaches, and other greats - just to even put you in the same sentence, in the same category as, you know, probably the greatest man to ever play the game of basketball is an honor. You know, for me, I try to do whatever it takes to be the best.


JAMES: You know, when I'm on the floor, I want to be the best. When people leave the game that I played in, I want them to say, "Well, that number six was the best player out there on the court. He's the best player in the world". You know, but Michael has set such a high standard for everyone. Not in just basketball, but in sport in general. You know, about what it means to be a champion and what it means to leave a legacy, so.

GRANT: And right now you've got one of those title rings, but, you know, look at his hand.

JAMES: Yes. He has six. Right. He has six. No, he has a lot of accomplishments, so, you know, hopefully I can get there.

GRANT: Let's talk, now, a little bit about some of the tougher times. When you were in Cleveland, you left there, you know, a lot of criticism wasn't there? How did you - was that a real wrench for you, having to leave there, go somewhere else, leave behind people who were your brothers you'd played with?

JAMES: Yes, yes. Absolutely.

GRANT: Fans, that would cost you.

JAMES: Absolutely. I think the biggest thing about, you know, leaving, was the, you know, leaving my teammates and leaving the organization that was so great to me. And I tried to give everything I could to them. And also leaving the fans.

GRANT: And you always said, I'm not just going to chase a premiership ring - a title ring. I'm looking -- you know, so it wasn't about that. It wasn't just about chasing --

JAMES: No, not at all. You know, not at all. It was about, you know, I put myself in a position where I can - you know, I want to win at the highest level. You know, I wanted to win at the highest level and also, you know, wanted a new beginning. A new start.

GRANT: Did it hurt, a lot of those things that were said at the time? Because it got pretty nasty sometimes.

JAMES: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it would hurt any human being, no matter - male or female - no matter what. You know, when people say bad things about you and they don't actually know you. But, at the end of the day, I knew the decision I made for myself and the decision I was making for my family. So, you know, we can live with that.


GRANT: You're one of the top five most highly paid athletes in the world. How do you get your head around that?




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had trouble keeping players on a team. And I knew a very good player and his name happened to be LeBron James.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember he was real flashy. He came to practice. He was throwing no-look passes.


GRANT: Let's go back, now. You've featured in a film - "More Than a Game".

JAMES: Right, right.

GRANT: And that was in high school, right?

JAMES: Right, I was in high school.


JAMES: Yes. So it was a documentary about me and my, you know, my best friends. On us, you know, having a dream about winning a national championship. But not knowing that, along that path, you know, friendship was going to be created and a brotherhood that was going to be created that would last forever. So, not only at the end of that film, did we win our national championship, we got a bond that would never -

GRANT: Which is really what sport - what life is about.

JAMES: It's a true testament to it. It's exactly what it's about. You know, you have dreams and everyone have a lot to overcome and same common goals and you don't realize what you're building off the floor.

GRANT: I think it was also Phil Jackson who said, you know, "There's more to life than basketball. There's more to basketball than basketball".

JAMES: No, absolutely. And it's about, you know, using, you know, using the game to get you, you know, what you want. And if everyone would remember that -

GRANT: Did you realize it then? You know, you're in high school and you know -

JAMES: Right.

GRANT: -- you're a great player. There's a lot of great players. To get from there to where you are - was that when it really dawned on you, "You know, I could make a life of this. I could make a career of this"?

JAMES: Yes, I mean, at some point in my high school day, I don't remember which year it was, you know, in between my sophomore and junior year I started to believe that, hey, you know, I could really, you know - those dreams that I had, I could make become a reality if I continue to work hard and I continue to listen to my coaches and I do well in school and I be, you know, real with my friends. And I started to hone in on those things and, you know, through the grace of God and through so many, you know, great obstacles, I've been able to, you know, be in a position I want to be in.

GRANT: And it wasn't an easy childhood, either. Why do you take this road and not that road? I mean, you've, you know, you've grown up with people who have not been as successful, as fortunate. People who can end up taking the wrong road.

JAMES: Right.

GRANT: We know there's pressure for drugs, there's crime.

JAMES: Right, absolutely.

GRANT: Did you feel that pressure?

JAMES: Well, you know what, I didn't feel that pressure. Even though I seen it, you know -

GRANT: You were growing up around it.

JAMES: Growing up in the inner city, you see all of it. You see, you know, everything that you'd never want your kids to see. But the good thing about it is I had a group of friends and a support system that, any time there may have been any little slippage here or something that was around me, they took me away from that. And, you know, I wanted to be away from that, too. So, like I said, I was very fortunate and also placed in the right position to be able to stay away from it.

GRANT: You've mentioned before, sacrifice. Everybody has to make sacrifices. One of the sacrifices that you made was to not go to college. Go straight into the -

JAMES: Right.

GRANT: -- pro basketball. Education's really important to you.

JAMES: It's very important.

GRANT: Do you regret that?

JAMES: You know what, no, I don't regret it. I would have loved certain -

GRANT: The whole experience?

JAMES: Yes, there's certain moments that I wish I was like, wow, you know, to be a part of this university. You know, especially, like I sit down and watch March Madness and wow, I wish I was a part of that. And there's times where I can see the fans supporting their respective football team and I'm like, wow, I wish I was a part of, you know, the whole university life and things of that nature. But I don't regret, you know, making the jump to the NBA. I felt like I was ready for it and I felt like my family was excited about me making that jump. So -

GRANT: That's something you can do. It's something you'll do later? You could study -

JAMES: I would love to. You know, I would love to, you know, go back after my life slows down a little bit to be able to go and be a part of some classes and, you know, just continue to strengthen the mind and see what comes up out of it.

GRANT: Because you're really big on that. I know, with your foundation, it's very important to you. One of the key parts of our foundation - you're wearing a bracelet now.


GRANT: "I Promise".

JAMES: Right, right.

GRANT: And you get people to put on -

JAMES: Right.

GRANT: -- you know, this. And you make a promise. Tell me about those promises and what it asks of people.

JAMES: Right, absolutely. With my foundation, The LeBron James Family Foundation, we -- You know, the "I Promise" band is a testament -

GRANT: It's a contract.

JAMES: It's a contract to my third graders that I have in my home town. You know, each and every year we do a pledge. You know, an "I Promise" pledge. You know, "I promise that I will do well in school. I promise that I will listen to my teachers. I promise that I will be great in the community. I promise that I will be, you know, healthy and I will, you know, exercise and do all these things". And on my end, I promise to them that I will continue to be a role model to them and, you know, on and off the floor.

GRANT: You are one of the top five most highly paid athletes in the world. How do you get your head around that?

JAMES: I think, you know, for me, I stay humble in the sense of knowing that less than 10 years and less than 15 years ago, I knew where I was. You know, and I know where I come from. So, you know, I stay in that moment.

GRANT: And fame? You know, you can go anywhere in the world. You're one of the most recognizable people in the world. You come here to China, people know who you are. What does that do to you as well? How do you keep that in perspective?

JAMES: You know, honestly, I think it's amazing, you know, to - I remember the first time I started to become recognized in my home town. You know, and then started becoming recognized in my home state. And then in the United States. So, to be able to be recognized in so many different countries and places, it's amazing.

GRANT: But sometimes, do you feel like you're living in a bit of a cocoon? You feel like sometimes, "You know, I'd like to be just me. Just away from this"?

JAMES: Well, those are the times where you stay home. You know, those are the times where, if you feel that way, you just stay home.

GRANT: And are there two LeBrons?

JAMES: No, there's not - no. No. What you see is what you get.

GRANT: Now, a question for basketball fans. Can you say you're going to bring home another title this year? You know, look at the Lakers - they've added more to their roster.

JAMES: Right, right.

GRANT: You go through their list - it's just extraordinary, isn't it?

JAMES: Right, it is. And that's the great thing about our sport. And that is to continue to get more and more competitive each and every year. Teams continue to get better and better. And, you know, that's why, you know, you try to put yourself in a position where, at the end of the day, you can say, "Hey, we gave ourselves a chance".

GRANT: And you've got one here, now. And you've got to catch Jordan.


GRANT: Be like Mike.

JAMES: Right, exactly.

GRANT: It's a real pleasure talking to you. An absolute gentleman. Thank you very much, LeBron.

JAMES: I appreciate it. Thank you so much.