LOS ANGELES (AFP) – LeBron James was once among thousands of youngsters striving to “be like Mike,” but the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar never dreamed he’d be mentioned in the same breath as Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan as one of basketball’s greatest.
James eclipsed Jordan as the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer on Thursday as he led the Cavaliers into a third straight NBA Finals – fueling comparisons to six-time NBA champion Jordan.
As pundits parsed the stats showing Jordan achieved his 5,987 playoff points in 179 post-season games while James reached 5,995 in his 212th post-season contest, James dismissed such conversations as “barbershop” debates.
When pressed, however, he acknowledged Jordan’s massive influence and the significance of the milestone.
“I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike, just seeing what he was able to accomplish,” James said after scoring 35 points in the Cavaliers’ 135-102 victory over the Boston Celtics that clinched the Eastern Conference title.
“When you’re growing up and you’re seeing Michael Jordan, it’s almost like a god. So I didn’t ever believe I could be Mike.”
From trying to emulate Jordan’s fadeaway jump shot to copying his uniform quirks, James said, “I did pretty much everything MJ did when I was a kid.”
“I didn’t go bald like Mike, but I’m getting there,” he quipped. “I wanted to be Mike, so for my name to come up in any discussion with Michael Jordan or Kareem (Abdul Jabbar) … it’s a wow factor.”
To be sure, “Air Jordan” still reigns over “King James.”
Jordan’s six NBA titles are twice as many as James’s three – two of them won with the Miami Heat before he returned to Cleveland with the avowed aim of bringing a championship to his home state of Ohio.