Maturity sets LeBron, Okafor apart

Mature, professional young players like LeBron James and Emeka Okafor help their teams not only on the court but also with the salary cap.

Originally Published: January 11, 2005
By George Karl | ESPN Insider
The draft classes of 2003 and 2004 have brought a number of gifted young players into the NBA. LeBron James ('03) and Emeka Okafor ('04) are two of those players (their teams, the Cavaliers and Bobcats, meet Tuesday night).

What makes LeBron and Okafor special is a maturity beyond their years. The term "professional" is seldom used with young players, but these two guys seem to have a commitment and a regimen and a focus – and, because of those qualities, a mental toughness.

LeBron and Okafor are much more consistent in their performance than most young guys. Rookies drive coaches crazy because of their inconsistency. One night they'll score 25, the next night five.

LeBron James

Emeka Okafor

Lots of the inconsistency comes from a limited ability to keep perspective. Often, when a young guy plays well he gets too happy, and when he plays bad he gets too sad. Young guys often lack the balance that comes with understanding that an 82-game schedule is as demanding mentally as it is physically.

Both LeBron and Okafor have shown that they have a mental toughness that complements their unique skills. That combination has set them apart.