LeBron: 2011 Finals loss to Mavs helped teach mental toughness
Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images Sport / Getty

It may seem hard to believe now, but there was a time this decade when LeBron James had zero NBA titles to his name and was considered somewhat of a choke artist.

That label was increasingly used after James' first season with the Miami Heat ended with a loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. James' physical gifts have always been omnipresent, but that defeat taught him the importance of mental toughness, too.

"The one instance that I can think about right off the top was the loss to Dallas in the 2011 Finals," James told ESPN's Dave McMenamin. "I knew that the physical side wasn't just gonna be enough, and also the level of scrutiny that I was dealing with ... I got out of my comfort zone. I lost the love of fun for the game, and I knew that was the mental side."

The Heat rebounded from that Finals loss to win the championship the following season, the first of James' three NBA titles. This campaign, his Los Angeles Lakers have a joint league-best 21-3 record heading into Tuesday's games.

"To be able to be in a packed arena on the road with 20,000, 22,000 people, screaming fans going crazy; to be able to a find a moment - two minutes or whatever, 30 seconds - to just be able to close my eyes and just kind of relax myself and calm myself. It's like meditation basically," he said.

When asked if he's being driven this season by a "list" of people who suggested his play was on the decline entering his 17th season in the NBA, James named several motivational factors.

He added, though: "The list is fueling me as well."

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LeBron: 2011 Finals loss to Mavs helped teach mental toughness
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