LeBron James: Old Pistons sharpened my competitive edge

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — LeBron James wasn’t really in the mood for nostalgia Monday morning, as his Cavaliers were about to go through their shootaround at the new Little Caesars Arena.

Asked if he missed The Palace, he smiled and said, “I don’t know, man. It’s all good. I’m ready to play in any arena.”

James, though, said The Palace and especially those old “Going to Work” Pistons teams played a vital role in his formative years in the league.

“They definitely have a chapter in my book,” he said.

From James’ rookie season in 2003-2004, through the 2008-2009, he was 2-8 at The Palace in the regular season and 7-13 against those stingy defensive Pistons teams that featured Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince in the frontcourt.


That Pistons team was to James was the Bad Boys Pistons teams were to Michael Jordan.

“They helped me out with my development, my mental side of the game,” James said. “It worked my mental toughness, my physical toughness, just my competitive nature, going against those teams.

“Just in understanding what you need in order to be successful, how to win and how to compete.”

How tough were the Pistons on a young King James? From 2003 through 2008, from age 19 through 23, he was a minus-25 in 19 regular-season games against the Pistons.

The Pistons broke his and the Cavaliers hearts in the 2006 Eastern Conference semifinals, winning Game 7, 79-61. His redemption came in the Eastern Conference Finals the next season.

On May 31, 2007, in Game 5 at the Palace with the series tied 2-2, James broke free of whatever hold the Pistons had him and the Cavaliers franchise. He scored his team’s final 25 points (29 of its last 30), hit 11 of 13 shots against a defense considered one of the best in NBA history and carried the Cavs to a double-overtime win.

He’s done a lot since, certainly, but that performance was epic.

“It was a big moment for our franchise at that time and for me has a young kid at that time,” he said. “I just wanted to try and make plays and implement my stamp on the game. I was able to do that on that particular night.”

James was also asked about the current Pistons team, but he deferred those questions to Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy. He did, though, watch with great amusement the end of the Pistons win against the Timberwolves on Sunday night.

Not only did point guard Reggie Jackson take over the fourth quarter, ala James, but he also iced Timberwolves free-throw shooter Jimmy Butler with a tactic James was very familiar with.

With 6.2 seconds left and the Pistons up by three, Butler was fouled on a three-point shot. After he made two free throws, Jackson broke Butler’s rhythm by stepping into the lane to say something to Stanley Johnson.

The move clearly bothered Butler, who rolled his eyes and proceeded to miss the tying free throw.

“I’ve done that myself,” James said. “I won a playoff series doing that before actually. So, I’m all for it.”

James did the same thing to Washington’s Gilbert Arenas in a series-clinching game in 2006. Though James’ approach was way more overt than Jackson’s. He reportedly stepped into the lane and told Arenas, “If you miss both of these free throws, the game is over.”

Arenas did miss the free throws and the Cavaliers won the game and the series on a late bucket by former Piston Damon Jones.