LeBron James brought Cleveland its first major sports championship since Jim Brown in June. Next up, he plans to catch up to another sports legend.
“My motivation,” James told Sports Illustrated, “is this ghost I’m chasing. The ghost played in Chicago.”
James owns three rings to Jordan’s six and four MVP awards to Jordan’s four. But King James possesses something that Michael lost long ago: time. At 31, James plays in his prime. He can keep making history. And the history he made in willing a Cleveland Cavaliers victory over the Golden State Warriors goes a long way toward making a legend.
Jordan never won a title without Scottie Pippen. James looked like he could have won one playing alongside Gladys Knight and the Pips this June.
But after falling short for the title in 2015, and playing a distant second fiddle to Steph Curry during the regular season, LeBron looked like he had left his best in the past. Sports Illustrated‘s Jack McCallum said as much in unveiling his list of the fifty greatest NBA players, ranking LBJ at five. “I don’t think LeBron’s gonna get any better,” the veteran basketball writer maintained during 2015-2016 NBA season. “He’s not on the way down, I want to be very clear on that. I think he’s at the top of the mountain. He’s not going any higher in his career to replace Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, guys like that — I just can’t see it happening at this time.”
James went on to play in a career-defining postseason that concluded with him taking his team on his back to defeat the greatest regular-season squad in NBA history.
“What I’ve gone through is totally different than what he went through,” James says of Jordan. “What he did was unbelievable, and I watched it unfold. I looked up to him so much. I think it’s cool to put myself in position to be one of those great players, but if I can ever put myself in position to be the greatest player, that would be something extraordinary.”
The culmination of his comeback to Cleveland at least puts LeBron in the conversation with Wilt, Larry, Magic, and other one-named hardwood heroes even if some players come up louder and more often.