As the comparisons between LeBron James and Michael Jordan reached new heights and new volumes last season, an oft-repeated line of thinking suggested that the discussion was inherently unfair to the Heat MVP, that holding his play up to that of a legend somehow distorted, downplayed or distracted from his accomplishments.
Shadows don’t get any longer, darker or more intimidating than Jordan’s, all of that is true, but it must be noted that James himself isn’t exactly running from the comparisons. Yes, he famously tweeted: “I’m not MJ, I’m LJ” but those words were easy to misinterpret. James wasn’t ceding the throne forever. Rather, he was establishing his own identity while paying the proper respect to Jordan, whose accomplishments he can’t yet match on a line-item basis.
Days after sending out that message, James called Jordan one of his childhood heroes — alongside Batman and the Transformers — but stated his career goal in a matter-of-fact tone.
“I want to be the greatest of all time,” James declared to a group of reporters at All-Star Weekend in Houston. “As my talent continued to grow, as I continued to know about the game, appreciate the game, continued to get better, I felt like I had the drive, first of all, the passion, the commitment to the game to place myself as the greatest of all time, the best of all time, however you want to categorize it. I don’t do it to say I’m better than this guy or that guy. I do it for my own inspiration. I inspire myself. When I go out on the floor, I want to be the best of all time. That’s how I help myself each and every night.”
With those words, James made it clear that Jordan serves as both hero and target. Which brings us to this week’s Sports Illustrated, in which senior writer Lee Jenkins goes behind-the-scenes with James during the 2013 Finals.
Jenkins details how James packs on extra weight in preparation for the postseason, only to lose much of it by expending so much energy while playing huge minutes in a variety of defensive matchups. Jenkins notes how James can barely sleep during the postseason, with the excitement, adrenaline and stress keeping him up late night after night. And, perhaps most interestingly, Jenkins details exactly how deeply Jordan’s success is ingrained in James’ mindset.