LeBron James says leading the Los Angeles Lakers into the NBA Finals after nearly three months inside the league's "bubble" in Orlando ranks as the biggest challenge of his career.
The 35-year-old superstar is readying for a 10th NBA Finals appearance on Wednesday when the Lakers face the Miami Heat in the championship round of an unprecedented season that began 11 months ago.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the NBA to shut down in mid-March, and anger over racism and police brutality almost prompted James and the Lakers to abandon the season in August.
James, who is hoping to win a fourth championship ring with a third different team after previous victories with Miami and Cleveland, said Tuesday that this year's disjointed season ranked as the toughest of the lot.
"It's probably been the most challenging thing I've ever done as far as a professional, as far as committing to something and actually making it through," James told reporters.
"But I knew when I was coming what we were coming here for. I would be lying if I sat up here and knew that everything inside the bubble, the toll that it would take on your mind and your body and everything else, because it's been extremely tough.
"But I'm here for one reason and one reason only, and that's to compete for a championship. That was my mindset once I entered the bubble, once I entered the quarantine process the first two days. The main thing was for us to finish the season and compete for a championship."
James who in July jokingly compared entering the bubble in Orlando to starting a prison sentence, said he had lost track of time in Florida.
"I don't even know how many days it is. However many days it is, it feels like five years," he said. "So it really doesn't matter. I've been as locked in as I've ever been in my career."
James said until the Lakers departed Los Angeles for Orlando in July, he hadn't even been certain that the season would be completed.
"I didn't know that this was a possibility until we actually got on the plane in LA to fly here to Orlando," he said.
"Until we landed here, actually got off the plane, got on the bus and pulled up here to the hotel, that's when it became a reality to me.
This year's finals pits James against his old team and former coach Erik Spoelstra. James won back-to-back titles with Miami in 2012 and 2013, but departed the franchise in 2014 to return to Cleveland.
James, who is reputed to have had a sometimes tense relationship with Spoelstra during his time with the franchise, said winning against Miami would carry no added satisfaction.
"Absolutely not," James said. "It's no extra meaning to winning a championship, no matter who you're playing against. It's already hard enough to even reach the Finals, to be in this position.
"If you're able to become victorious out of the Finals, it doesn't matter who it's against. I'm just happy that I'm here with the opportunity to represent not only myself but represent our fans, our fan base, our organization, my teammates, our coaching staff, our training staff and so many others that represent this organization to the utmost respect."
Orlando, United States | AFP