Lakers' LeBron James says he lost his 'love for the game' after losing the 2011 Finals

Sitting here in 2019, after all that he's accomplished, the consensus opinion on LeBron James is that he's one of the best basketball players of all-time, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn't respect what he's done on and off the floor. A little less than a decade ago, however, that was certainly not the case. 

His talent was never in question, but he faced all sorts of scrutiny for his failures at the highest level of the postseason with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the pressure only intensified after he left for the Miami Heat following The Decision in the summer of 2010. When he and the Heat collapsed in the 2011 Finals to lose to the Dallas Mavericks, the criticism reached a fever pitch. 

No one has ever doubted that the loss was devastating for LeBron, but it wasn't until early on Tuesday afternoon that we learned just how much it affected him. During an interview with ESPN's Dave McMenamin, LeBron acknowledged that after everything that transpired that spring, he lost his "love for the game."

Full exchange: 

McMenamin: "For years you've worked on your body. But were there any times in your life, or your career, where you started to put more emphasis on the mental fitness side of things?"

LeBron: "I would say probably the last eight years. The one instance that I can think about right off the top is after the loss to Dallas in the 2011 Finals. I knew that the physical side wasn't gonna be enough. And also the level of scrutiny that I was dealing with, and how I got out of my comfort zone, I lost my love for the game. I knew that was the mental side."

LeBron stepped up to help the Heat win the next two Finals, and has since added another championship with the Cavaliers in 2016. But even with three rings and four MVPs to his name, he said last summer on "The Shop" that bouncing back from his failure in the 2011 Finals was his "greatest achievement." Now, we know exactly why. 

Not only did he have to overcome all of the external obstacles -- silencing doubters, coming up big in the clutch, finally winning a title, etc. -- he had to conquer his own internal thoughts and doubts, which can be even more difficult. 

When all is said and done with LeBron's career -- which, he is reminding us this season, won't be any time soon -- the 2011 Finals isn't going to be the first thing anyone mentions. It won't be the second or third either. But as this interview proves, few events have been as important in shaping his journey to becoming an all-time legend. 

NBA Writer

Jack Maloney lives and writes in Milwaukee, where, like the Bucks, he is trying to own the future. Full Bio

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