(Reuters) - Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra on Tuesday paid tribute to his former player LeBron James, who will make a 10th NBA Finals appearance this week but in a different jersey than when the duo were celebrating titles together.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ James spent four seasons under Spoelstra in Miami where he reached the NBA Finals each year and won two championships before going on win another with Cleveland.
James now finds his former Heat team standing between him and a fourth title.
Spoelstra, speaking to media on the eve of the NBA Finals, was asked how James is different to when he last wore a Heat uniform in 2014.
“He’s seen everything,” said Spoelstra, whose Heat team are underdogs against the Lakers in the best-of-seven series.
“At this point in his career, it’s just about winning. And his ability to do what he does at his age is incredibly uncommon. But there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to be able to maintain that.”
By reaching the championship round, the 35-year-old James joins Bill Russell (12), Sam Jones (11) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (10) as the only players with 10 or more NBA Finals appearances.
Not only is James back in the NBA Finals, but he is doing it while still playing at an elite level, having recently finished runner-up for the league’s Most Valuable Players honors.
“To see what LeBron has done, when he moved on to Cleveland and then to (Los Angeles), it really is just a testament to his greatness and his commitment to winning,” said Spoelstra.
“To be able to do it with different rosters and uniforms is really remarkable.”
Spoelstra said it took some time to digest the news in 2014 when James announced he would leave Miami and return to the Cleveland Cavaliers four years after he left his home state to join the Heat.
“I went through my own six-week reflection period that summer. But then you get back to work,” said Spoelstra. “We knew what we were losing.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis
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