MIAMI (AP) — Pat Riley has a theory why LeBron James' journey to basketball's mountaintop took so long.
Growth, he said, takes time.
"I always use the analogy of the Chinese bamboo tree," said the Miami Heat president. "You plant the seed in the ground and it just sits there and 10 years later it grows 100 feet in one year. Over the 10 years, there's a root structure and a taproot that is growing deeper and deeper and deeper and is embedded in the ground. And when that thing starts growing, it ain't going anywhere but up."
That is, much like James did in 2012.
It was practically a year beyond compare. James got his first NBA championship, was the league's MVP for the third time, a unanimous choice as MVP of the NBA Finals, and collected a second Olympic gold medal. And in perhaps the last marquee moment of his year, James and the Heat play host to Oklahoma City on Tuesday, a Finals rematch on Christmas.
James will be center stage with the Heat-Thunder showdown part of the NBA's Christmas slate of nationally televised games including: The Boston Celtics vs. the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks against the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets taking on the Chicago Bulls and the Denver Nuggets squaring off against the Los Angeles Clippers.
And there are some sensational story lines around all those games.
But no NBA player did anything in 2012 that matched what James put together.
No longer uncomfortable with the fallout for the way he exercised his right in 2010 to choose his own future, he enjoyed a year loaded with triumphs. James allowed himself to be in the public eye more, heard booing in most road arenas return to normal levels and insists he's as content as ever.
"I'm driven," James said, "by something greater."
He has money. He would figure to contend for several more championships if he remains healthy. He has enormous fame. He is on top of his game and in his prime. The 27-year-old James is averaging 25.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists and the Heat are leading the Eastern Conference with an 18-6 record.
What's left is legacy, him attempting to ensure he truly becomes one of the greatest.
"You look at some of the greatest companies," James said. "As great as McDonald's is, they don't stop. As great as Nike is, they don't stop. They keep trying to be innovative and make new, great things for consumers. They don't stop. They could. They've got enough. I look at that as well, as motivation. I want to keep getting better. I want to put myself in position to maximize every little thing that I have."
That starts with putting himself out there more now.
A few weeks ago, James decided to join some friends for an evening bike ride. They pedaled about 20 miles that evening, an outing that proved James has completed a much longer journey.
That night, without any trepidation, James was part of a group of 3,000 people who strapped on helmets and rode through Miami in an effort to promote safety and awareness for bicyclists.