Whether you listened to podcasts, read articles or watched regular-season games (people still do that, by the way), you noticed that LeBron's defense has not been up to his level the past few years. There are many possible factors for that.
The first one the fact LeBron had to do so much on offense for his teams in the past few years, he had to conserve energy somewhere. That is closely connected to the second one - age. Father time spares no-one, and LeBron is no exception. The third one is the competitiveness of his team. It made no sense to go all out for teams that were limited with their roster and compared to the competition. So a combination of in-game load management, responsibilities on offense, and seeing the bigger picture resulted in LeBron taking it easy on defense at times.
But don't think LeBron hasn't noticed the narrative. Even if it may be true, competitive people will take issue with anyone talking like that about them. As much as LeBron is measured with media and knows how to control his image, little things still slip through the cracks. Like this, for instance.
Players talk a lot with refs in the NBA, and that's a good thing. My feeling is LeBron was being a bit sarcastic here, but also letting the refs know he is playing serious defense this year, and they shouldn't call his defense the way they may have in the past few years.
One of the ways narratives do influence your game is with the refs. Human nature dictates that if everyone "agrees," you aren't working as hard on defense anymore, you won't get all the calls you may should. Not to say LeBron (and other superstars) don't get special treatment with the refs.
But, the refs (and the league) are on notice. LeBron means business on both ends of the court this year.