Here’s a little sneak peak into the pages of the latest ESPN the Magazine for you, which features a pretty fantastic Q&A with LeBron James and ESPN NBA analyst Chris Broussard. (This coming from a guy who’s never been too high on either individual.) Bron Bron dives into a lot of great stuff, including his nonexistent relationship with MJ, his improved post game, and his image.
The meaty stuff, obviously, dealt with the LeBron-MJ talk—which will never get old by the way. Broussard started by asking “King James” what he thinks he has to do to become the greatest of all time. LeBron said a whole lot of nothing to that point, other than he’s just going to continue to work to improve his game and hopefully “be ranked as if not the greatest, than one of the greatest.” Broussard was looking for numbers though. Not three. Not four. It’s when he gets to five and six rings that people will start calling him the greatest of all time, right? To that, LeBron responded thusly:
I don’t think about that. That really doesn’t mean much to me. I don’t play the catching game. I’m not trying to catch Magic or catch Bird or catch Kobe. I’m into maximizing what I have while I have the opportunity to do it. I’ve played my first 10 years at a high level, and I’m trying to play my next 10 at a high level, or as high as I can be.
Then, when pressed about chasing the likes of Kobe and MJ, and competing with their career accomplishments rather than guys who came into the Association around the same time, LeBron opened up a little more:
Yeah, that’s who everyone puts as the best. But you’re always going to have arguments, no matter what. People are going to like Jordan, people are going to like LeBron, people are going to like Kobe and so on. Magic, Bird … But I don’t really think about it too much and say, Okay, I want to catch MJ. I’m saying I want to be the greatest, and I think I have an opportunity to do it just because of my skill set and because I feel like I’ve got a lot of room to improve.
But I definitely look at MJ as the greatest. Without MJ, there’s no me. He gave me hope. He gave me inspiration as a kid. I still watch MJ tapes to this day. I was watching Come Fly With Me and Jordan’s Playground and His Airness on vacation earlier this summer. So I’m watching him all the time, trying to learn from him.
Then the questions get deeper. Does he wish he had a better relationship with Mike?:
I do. I do at times. You know, he’s somebody who I looked up to, and I’ve never had a conversation with him about the game. I would love to sit down with him and just know exactly what he was going through and know what was his mind frame throughout all his special years. … And then also to hear him talk about me. I would like to know what he thinks about my game and ways I can get better. He probably thinks he can beat me one-on-one right now.
And why does he think the relationship hasn’t developed?:
I think it’s just being busy. Obviously, I’m busy. MJ has a lot going on. I don’t know the reasons, but it’s never been sparked. I’ve seen him at times. Of course, I’ve met him a few times. I went to his 50th-birthday party at All-Star weekend. I went to his party to show respect and pay homage to the greatest. I had a conversation with him there. Obviously, there were a lot of people there. But I don’t know. I don’t know.
The comparisons can go on and on, about how LeBron stacks up numbers-wise, titles-wise and so on. The fact is they were (and are) both great during their respective periods of dominance. They play(ed) the same game, but their styles and the times they play(ed) in are (were) entirely different. We all should just appreciate the fact that we were able to play witness to two exceptionally gifted athletes.
Forget about MJ for a second though. Who else did LeBron look up to when he was growing up, learning to play the game he’d soon come to dominate? This came from a followup to LeBron mentioning all of the tapes he watches of Jordan:
I watch Jordan more than anybody, for sure. But I’ll watch tapes of AI [Allen Iverson] too. I don’t take anything from AI. Well, I do—his will. They say he was six feet, but AI was like 5’10½”. Do we even want to say 160? 170? Do we even want to give him that much weight? And he played like a 6’8″ 2-guard. He was one of the greatest finishers we’ve ever seen. You could never question his heart. Ever. He gave it his all. AI was like my second favorite player growing up, after MJ.
Part of the reason—probably about 90 percent of the reason—why I’ve never been too receptive of King James goes back to the who “The Decision” and what he did to the town he was born and raised in, and the whole villain image that was a result of LeBron taking his talents to South Beach, and how he responded when the Heat lost in the NBA Finals in his first season there, and he addressed that:
I ain’t never been a bad guy. I think for everyone, when you run into mistakes, it’s how you handle those mistakes. It’s how you come back from them. I made a comment after we lost to Dallas about people going back to their regular lives. After they’re done criticizing LeBron, they still have to go back to their struggles. And I’ve learned from that. I feel like that was a mistake. That wasn’t who I am. I don’t even know where that came from. Being an underprivileged kid growing up and now having a huge foundation that helps underprivileged kids and underprivileged families, that was very insensitive to say that.
So I’ve grown from that. On the court, I’ve grown from not being there like I should have been there for my team in that Dallas series. So I think that year, and the way the press was handling me, and all of a sudden I got a villain hat and all that, it changed me for the wrong. And after that season, I was like, Man, that ain’t me. I ain’t about that life [laughs hard]. Get back to being LeBron. That’s on and off the court.
Something that would bring the whole saga full circle, for me at least, would be James’s return to the city he once lit on fire, something he has a chance to do that after this season. It appears as though Cleveland is doing everything it can to make a run at their hometown boy, but if a third title is in the cards in Miami, who’s to say LeBron won’t look to continue what could be a historic run in sunny south Florida?
Whatever his decision this time around, I think I can start warming up to the guy. He just needs to go out there and play basketball and avoid all of the drama and extra curriculars. Worry more about getting your job done on the court and less about how you’re going to publicly shame one city (or five) by sponsoring a nationally-televised event to make your “decision.”