- Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com
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LeBron James will receive his first title ring before Tuesday's opener, but don't expect much emotion.
MIAMI -- If LeBron James gets emotional during Tuesday night’s ring ceremony, it’ll probably be a surprise to him. If you see him wearing it anytime soon, that’ll be a surprise, too.
This is the third time in the past five years opening night has been a ring night for James. In 2008, he waited in the cramped visitors locker room at TD Garden in Boston as Paul Pierce wept on the floor where the Celtics ended James’ season five months earlier.
Last Christmas, as Dirk Nowitzki got a little misty eyed as the Mavericks’ championship banner headed toward the ceiling in Dallas, James paced in a nearby hallway waiting to face another team that ended his season on the way to its celebration.
After everything James has been through -- getting swept in his first Finals in 2007, failing to get back after being the No. 1 overall seed two years in a row in Cleveland in 2009 and 2010, blowing a Finals lead in 2011, being forced to hide from two ring ceremonies along the way -– it would seem logical that James would anticipate the Heat’s jewelry presentation as a cathartic release. It is a time when showing emotion is expected and even encouraged.
But in what is just the latest example of James’ all-business approach to this season, he almost couldn’t sound more detached about the moment.
When he finished off the Oklahoma City Thunder in June with a triple-double in Game 5 of the Finals, the pure joy showed on James' face as he grasped the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time. The next morning he shared his “pinch me” moment with his Twitter followers by declaring, “I think it just hit me. I am a CHAMPION. I AM A CHAMPION.”
Now, with the rival Celtics in town in a fitting reversal of the 2008 ring ceremony, all James can focus on is getting back and not looking back. It’s shown in his focus and his play throughout the Heat’s training camp and it was certainly showing in the way he’s approaching Tuesday’s pregame festivities.
“Winning it was what I dreamed of, I never dreamed of actually having the ring ceremony,” James said. “So I’m just like whatever. I think it’s going to be a special night and I’m going to be excited for it. But the game is what I’m more focused on than actually receiving the ring.”
James has said he wishes that the Heat could’ve had the ring ceremony on Monday so that it wouldn’t come before such a key early-season game. James is, of course, concerned about a team-wide letdown. The Heat were up by 35 points on the Mavericks on their ring night last year. The Heat themselves lost by 42 points on their ring night back in 2006-07 to the Chicago Bulls. But defending champs have actually won 10 of the past 13 years on ring night.
But James’ attitude on the matter is part of what seems like a concerted strategy to move on from last season. He doesn’t even seem like he’s going to spend much time examining his prize.
“Do I look like the type of guy that would wear my ring every day? Nope.” James said. “It will be put up somewhere with the rest of my individual accolades. That’s a team thing. But I’m moving on.”
The “moving on” part is what has caught the attention of his opponents already in the young season. Even with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra trying to take it a little easier on him in the preseason after his summer playing with Team USA and the expected allowances for a deserved victory lap, James has been all business thus far. James has appeared in midseason form throughout the preseason and was routinely one of the last players on the court after practice, putting in work on new phases of his game, including a hook shot.
“He’s more comfortable in his skin, and I think that’s what he is now,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
"He’s got that off his back. He can breathe and play, which makes him better. He knows he can do it. He knows he can make big shots. He knows he can will a team. He had done it in the past. He just had never done it on a big stage. Now, he’s done it and so nothing changes for him. He’s still the guy that everybody is going after. It’s not like he wasn’t the target last year. He’s the same target. The target’s bigger.”
That may be so, but James seems oblivious to outside expectations now and numb to anything except focusing on being able to shrug off another ring night this time next year.
“Everybody has been gunning for us since I’ve come here, they’ve all gunned for us, so it doesn’t change,” James said. “For me, it’s just the start of a new year.”
10hSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
5dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
2dDan Le Batard
8dESPN Stats & Information