CLEVELAND -- As the clock approached midnight on Thursday, 1,200 miles from American Airlines Arena, LeBron James of the Miami Heat hoisted first the NBA championship trophy and then the finals MVP award. At the same time, the two men who set him on his path watched on their home TVs in Akron and celebrated as if James were their son.
"I had a great seat at home, probably the best seat, with my grandchildren," said Dru Joyce.
"There was a lot of whooping and hollering."
Surely, James would not have reached the pinnacle of success with Thursday's defeat of the Oklahoma City Thunder were it not for Joyce and Keith Dambrot, his first two coaches at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. Their support and influence has nurtured James throughout his career and continues to do so to this day.
In fact, James' turnaround from also-ran in 2011 to champion in 2012 may have had its start one September day in the Akron basketball players lounge, where Dambrot, now the coach of the Zips, invited James in for a chat.
"Just give me five minutes," Dambrot said to James, who'd been working out in town during the NBA lockout.
"I sat him down and I said, 'Look you can stop me anytime you want. If you think I'm overstepping my bounds, you can stop me.'
"I just hit him with going back to the beginning, going back to the basics, doing things that he didn't want to do, like rebounding, playing in the post, moving without the ball.
"But mostly about just the mental side of handling the criticism and trying to play through misses and getting on to the next play, not letting plays bother him or games bother him or anything bother him and just playing again, having fun playing.
"He was great. I talked to him about being coachable. I have a theory that people may wander off their course, but they are who they are. He's always been a coachable guy, a guy who wanted to win and play the right way. I knew that he could get back to where he wanted to get. But he had to look himself in the mirror. He agreed with me. I give him a lot of credit for that. He already knew."
Both coaches suffered with James last season when he was criticized from all corners for leaving Cleveland, for using a national television show to announce it, then for falling short against the Dallas Mavericks.
"He has always been a likeable kid," said Joyce, who replaced Dambrot at SVSM after James' sophomore season and remains the coach of the Irish. "He enjoys people. He enjoyed people feeling good about him, not saying negative things about him. I think all of us do.
"The negatives that were said had an effect. He said it last night," Joyce said.
"He said he played last year trying to prove everyone wrong. Playing from that won't take you where you need to go. You have to play from love. You can't play from hate. You can't play from anger."
"This year," Joyce said, "he forgot about the critics and just played the game the way he's been taught to play it, the way he's enjoyed playing it. He understood what the team need from him and he made those changes. He did the kinds of things he did growing up and in high school he did whatever his team needed. That was big," Joyce said.
"When you stay focused on the things you can control, your attitude and your effort and you let all that other stuff go, you can make those kinds of strides. You've seen him grow up a lot."
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