LeBron James is only 31, but he’s already an NBA legend. Some speculate as to whether King James is the greatest basketball player of all-time while others ponder whether he’s only the best player of his generation.
Despite his age, LeBron’s already won three NBA championships—two with the Miami Heat and one with the Cavaliers, his hometown team he left only to return Cleveland’s prodigal son, bringing the city its first major championship in more than 50 years just last month. Beyond that, he’s a four-time league MVP and a 12-time All-Star. He’s already 11th on the NBA all-time points list. And if all that wasn’t enough, James is also the owner of two shiny Olympic gold medals.
Coming off his historic win, LeBron—whose net worth is pegged somewhere in the $233 million range—may be worth upwards of $1 billion in the not-so-distant future thanks to a huge deal he’s rumored to be signing with Nike. James also has endorsement contracts with a slew of other companies—like McDonald’s, State Farm and Samsung. Most recently, he’s dipped his toes in the acting pool, having a cameo in HBO’s Entourage and playing himself in the 2015 film Trainwreck.
It’s safe to say King James keeps busy.
Still, it’s no secret that, despite his successes, LeBron been involved in a number of different controversies. Who could forget his decision to jump ship and head to Miami following the 2009-2010 season? He’s also been outspoken in the media—often for distracting reasons.
But through all that—and being father to three young kids—LeBron’s remained incredibly productive and proven himself to be a leader time and again. How?
1. Have a long-term vision
In 2010, the basketball world waited for LeBron to decide whether he was going to remain on the Cavaliers for the 2010-2011 season or sign somewhere else. James famously exploded the internet when he announced, during an hour-long ESPN special called “The Decision,” that he would be “taking his talents to South Beach.”
Critics were repulsed. Though there are countless superstar athletes who make big decisions every offseason, James felt as though his decision warranted its own primetime special. (To be fair, ESPN obliged because, while there are many superstars, LeBron is a superstar’s superstar.)
Still, a little humility wouldn’t hurt. But LeBron learned his lesson; the announcement to return to Cleveland wasn’t anywhere near as gaudy or narcissistic.
In any case, many pundits thought LeBron chose Miami so he could win the championships that eluded him during his first stint in Cleveland. They may have been right.
But what many didn’t foresee is that LeBron had his sights set on returning to his hometown and bringing Cleveland at least one championship. Sure, he may not be as humble as some of the stars who came before him—like Michael Jordan—but LeBron’s mindset during his second stint in Cleveland is undoubtedly more mature. He was intensely focused on winning a championship, and that’s exactly what he did.
2. Help others become better
When James returned to Cleveland, he knew he would be joining a young team with a young coach. As a result, LeBron figured he’d assume more of a teaching role when he rejoined the Cavaliers.
Here’s how he viewed his position on his new team:
I know that I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously.
It’s one thing to be a guy who’s just really good at shooting a ball through a hoop. It’s a whole different thing to be a guy who goes above and beyond, sharing smarts and secrets with those who aren’t as talented to help them become better players.
3. Learn from your failures
Not only did LeBron learn to avoid another spectacle like The Decision, he’s also learned from his other failures—namely losing the NBA finals on four separate occasions. But rather than letting his losses derail him from his vision, King James used them to inspire him to reach the next level.
In his own words:
You have to be able to accept failure to get better.
No one—athlete or business professional—will “win” every single time. You need to understand that failure is a part of life. When you fail, it is up to you to remain motivated and work harder and harder. That way, you increase the chances future results are much more desirable.
4. You don’t have to do everything on your own
Though LeBron was named MVP of the most recent NBA Finals, many folks believe Kyrie Irving’s clutch three-pointer made as time was winding down in the fourth quarter of Game 7 was the shot that sent the championship to Cleveland. (Obviously, James’ epic block contributed to the cause, too.)
In addition to routinely dropping a ton of points on his opponents, LeBron also pads his stats in many other ways. He’s racked up 15 triple-doubles in the playoffs thanks to grabbing a ton of rebounds, assisting his teammates, and blocking shots.
Basketball players—like any other professional—don’t have to do everything on their own. Everything can and should be a team effort. LeBron understands this perfectly, which is while he isn’t afraid of involving his teammates heavily in the game plan. The sum becomes greater than the individual parts.
The scariest thing about LeBron James is the fact he’s only 31-years-old. Time will tell how the rest of his career plays out. But if the last basketball season was any indication, it appears the city of Cleveland won’t have to worry about another title drought anytime soon.