With the crowd standing and roaring after seeing history, James took a moment to soak in the adoration before hurrying back to work.
Michael Jordan would have done the same thing.
James scored in double digits in his 867th straight game, breaking the record he shared with his boyhood idol Jordan, and the Cleveland Cavaliers rallied to beat the New Orleans Hornets 107-102 on Friday night to avoid slipping in the standings.
James finished with 27 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, adding another stellar performance to his MVP-worthy 15th NBA season.
This game, however, won’t be remembered for that stat line or James taking over in crunch time.
This was the night James caught—and passed—a player he’s spent his career chasing.
“That’s a good moment, a special moment not only for myself but for my family and for so many kids that look up to me for inspiration to know that you can actually go out there and do it and know where I’ve come from,” James said. “You know, brought up 30 minutes south of here and the statistics are always stacked up against you, and for me to be in this position today, being able to accomplish something that a lot of people thought would not happen again or be able to break a record like that.
“It means a lot for me and it means more to the youth that kind of needs hope.”
Jordan Clarkson added 23 points and Tristan Thompson had 14 rebounds in 21 minutes for the Cavs, who have won seven of eight. A loss would have dropped the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions from third to fifth with only a handful of games left in the regular season.
Jrue Holiday scored 25 points and Nikola Mirotic 20 for New Orleans, who slipped to eighth in the Western Conference. Pelicans star Anthony Davis scored just 16—12 below his average—on 6-of-19 shooting as he was harassed by Thompson and Larry Nance Jr.
James surpassed Jordan’s mark midway through the first quarter in fitting fashion, delivering a two-handed dunk that Mirotic and Pelicans forward Solomon Hill didn’t dare try to stop.
During a stoppage in play, James came over and took the game ball, which he plans to add to his overloaded trophy case at home. He then saluted the crowd, which included pop superstar Justin Timberlake.
Jordan’s mark had stood since 2001, and there’s no telling how long James can extend his streak before ending a career with no apparent finish line in sight.
“That number is going to keep going,” Thompson said. “He can do it till he’s tired of it. It’s going to be on him.”
As he has done countless times before, James took over when it mattered most.
The Cavs built a 95-88 lead on the strength of three 3-pointers in a span of 1:33 in the fourth. Holiday kept New Orleans close before James made two free-throws and three jumpers, the final a fadeaway with 1:59 left.
“LeBron just took the game over and made shots that we would like to see him shoot,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “We tried to keep him from driving to the basket, but he made three tough shots. That’s kind of who he is.”
Pelicans: G Rajon Rondo returned after missing two games with a sprained right wrist. He scored seven points … Davis missed his first six shots. He also sat out the first eight minutes of the second quarter when the Pelicans opened a 13-point lead.
Cavaliers: It wouldn’t be a Cavs game without an injury, as G George Hill hurt his left ankle in the third quarter. He’ll be evaluated Saturday … James also tied Kobe Bryant for third place with 941 games of 20 or more points … JR Smith played despite missing the morning shootaround with an unspecified illness … James came in averaging 30.5 points, 10.0 rebounds and 10.1 assists in his previous 23 games.
Davis had averaged 31.3 points and shot 60 percent in his last seven games.
“I missed a lot of shots,” he said. “I have to play better. If I do make half of those shots that I missed, we probably wouldn’t even be in that situation. It’s on me.”
With All-Star Kevin Love back from a concussion, the Cavaliers, who have dealt with injuries since Day 1, were closer to full strength on the court. They’re getting healthier off it, too.
Coach Tyronn Lue, who has taken a medical absence from the team, attended the game but did not sit on the bench. Lue last coached on March 17, when he didn’t return from the locker room at halftime against Chicago. Two days later, he announced he was stepping away after experiencing chest pains and insomnia all season.
The Cavaliers want him to stay away as long as necessary, but interim coach Larry Drew said Lue could be back “real soon”.
Pelicans: Host Oklahoma City on Sunday.
Cavaliers: Host Dallas on Sunday.