Immediately after game three of the just-concluded, often contentious Chicago Bulls/Miami Heat NBA playoff series, TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager asked Lebron James how he kept his head when all about were losing theirs.
Sager was referring to the emphasis on physicality, and the emotional outbursts, displayed by the injury-depleted Bulls as they attempted to use intimidation to distract and disrupt the Heat. Rougher than usual contact had Miami's Dwayne Wade using a mouthguard for the first time in his 10-year pro career.
Expletive-laced trash talk added to the hostile atmosphere, and there were no longer the hugs and handshakes between competing players that normally precede NBA games.
Chicago forward Jimmy Butler described his Bulls as "that hard-nosed, tough-guy team." Meanwhile, Miami's league MVP and team leader had no time for tough-guy talk. Lebron James said simply, "I'm here to play basketball."
And through it all, Lebron did keep his head, did keep his composure, and he remained the voice of reason -- reminding himself, his teammates, and anyone else who cared to listen, that playoff basketball -- though a time of hard fouls and hard feelings -- is all about focus -- ignoring distractions and concentrating on the big prize, the singular goal, the claiming of the Larry O'Brien NBA championship trophy.
Lebron James is becoming a true sports hero at a time when sports heroes seem to be a vanishing breed.
Oh, the times that America has been shocked and so disappointed by athletes we once admired and respected -- and yes, that we loved... football's O.J., and baseball's Mark Maguire, golf's Tiger Woods and cycling's Lance Armstrong.
But though seemingly in short supply, true sports heroes do still exist. In basketball, Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan come to mind. And Lebron James must surely have come from the same mold.
He is the epitome of the good teammate -- sharing the ball and sharing the credit. His private life has been void of scandal. The love of his life is still his high school sweetheart.
His "giving back" has included time as well as money. His generous philanthropic efforts are a matter of public record -- the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, his Lebron James Family Foundation,. a one million dollar gift to his high school.
To be sure, Lebron has his critics -- lots of them. Following his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and sign on with the Miami Heat in 2010, he was booed most everywhere he played, and was oft labeled as one of the most disliked athletes in America. A regrettable choice of words was largely to blame.
In announcing his choice of Miami over remaining in Cleveland, or selecting one of the numerous other NBA suitors, Lebron said he was 'taking his talents to South Beach'. That remark came across to many as egotistical and arrogant -- especially in Cleveland and other cities which had their hopes of having him dashed.
That furor has gradually subsided, and his growing popularity is evidenced by his lucrative endorsements, which are advertisers' response to positive public opinion. Those endorsements have made Lebron James the second highest-paid athlete in America.
Lebron James is now generally acknowledged as the greatest basketball player in the game today. He is also arguably one of the greatest of all time.
Here's looking to a future that always has his basketball greatness matched by moral greatness.