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LeBron’s Leap Year

The closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics capped off an athletic celebration of more than 40 world records being etched in history, and more than 100 Olympic records being shattered.

In a span of 17 days, thousands of the top athletes on the planet showcased what had been, in most cases, at least four years of relentless training. The Summer Games gave us nearly 3 weeks worth of men and women striving for success. It proved that even when surrounded by great achievement, there’s still an opportunity to be even greater.

Take Olympic Men’s Basketball gold medalist LeBron James for instance. You would be hard pressed to find an athlete who’s had more hype, praise, criticism and success than LeBron. His 6-foot-8 frame, adorned with the red, white & blue colors of Team USA, was also accompanied by undeniable joy and the all-important gold medal around his neck. As he relished this latest milestone, I couldn’t help but reflect on LeBron’s remarkable journey—from Akron, Ohio to London, England.

As a high school basketball standout in Akron, he was drawing the kind of hoopla normally reserved for NBA legends. As a 1st Round draft pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers he ascended to “Savior” status for a franchise overjoyed about attaching their own fate to a teenager’s potential. Quickly, the entire country saw that same potential turn into primetime performances and extended glimpses of unmatched talent.

But LeBron’s thirst for NBA championship glory and better marketing status led him to a “Decision” that quickly turned his image from “great” to “mistake”.

Vilified for a highly publicized divorce from his Cleveland fan base, LeBron dribbled forward in Miami with a team that had the ingredients needed to mix together a title. Of course that NBA championship recipe was saturated with pressure and lacked the first year chemistry needed to win it all.

While many in that situation—losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, would’ve spent the following year full of regret, doubt and dissension, LeBron turned it into a calendar for greatness.

It began in the fall when James apparently re-evaluated his fall from grace. His offseason was spent practicing, training and preparing himself to be a champion. His calendar then shifted to winter as he began a lockout-shortened 66-game season on the Christmas Holiday—no coincidence that it was the day after my birthday. He wasted no time bringing in the new year with MVP caliber performances. He then turned to the spring months to spring into the NBA history books with his 3rd League MVP honor and his first ever NBA championship. Despite the pressure and constant criticism, he remained focused on his goal. After claiming NBA Finals MVP honors, he continued to strive for more.

That’s when his page turned to the present–the summer portion of the calendar. When LeBron became the only player in Team USA history to record a triple-double in Olympic basketball competition. His 19-point performance in Sunday’s 7-point victory over Spain gave the Americans the gold medal. It also put LeBron in rare air; James and Michael Jordan are the only men in history to have claimed the NBA League MVP honors, NBA Finals MVP honors, the NBA Title, and an Olympic gold medal in the same year. MJ did it back in 1992. 20 years later, LeBron’s dream has been realized.

When asked, moments after defeating Spain, about his amazing calendar year of accolades, trophies and medals, James deferred the praise to his teammates and a genuine desire to represent his country and the “3 letters” across the chest of their Team USA uniforms. While there still may be a shortage of Cleveland fans cheering for the most recent accomplishment, there’s no denying that LeBron spent the last 366 days (leap year) doing a figurative 180 in his quest for greatness.

So what have you done today to prepare for GREATNESS?

Join the conversation here.

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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