Posted June 26, 2013

LeBron James details his Michael Jordan moment in Sports Illustrated cover story

2013 NBA Finals, Ben Golliver, Chicago Bulls, LeBron James, Miami Heat, Michael Jordan, San Antonio Spurs
LeBron James appears on the cover of the July 1 issue of Sports Illustrated.

LeBron James appears on the cover of the July 1 issue of Sports Illustrated. ( Jeffery A. Salter for Sports Illustrated)

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.

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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.

During a rare rest in the second week of the Finals, James was lounging in his hotel room at the Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort in San Antonio when Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals came on ESPN Classic. He watched until Michael Jordan held the pose on his last [jumper] in Utah.

Before Game 7, Miami assistant David Fizdale showed James cut-ups of the San Antonio defense leaving him alone near the free-throw line. Then coaches underlined his sterling percentages in that area this season. “Even the best have self-doubt at times when what they’re doing isn’t working,” James says. “You need a reminder.” He does not study hot zones, but he does watch old tapes. He found one that was taken last summer in his high-school gym, at St. Vincent-St. Mary, when he was burnishing his J. “Why would you abandon this thing that’s helped make you what you are?” James asked himself. “Stop second-guessing yourself. Go do it. Make it happen.”

James uncorked 20 shots outside the paint in Game 7, the most since he arrived in South Florida three years ago. He drained nine, including five three-pointers. But with 33 seconds left, Miami was only up by two, and James bounced the ball on the blazing Heat logo at midcourt. He was back in the ring of fire. With the floor expertly spaced by Spoelstra, guard Mario Chalmers darted up from the post to set a screen on Leonard at the left elbow, and James bounded around it. Parker switched onto him, but James planted his left shoulder into Parker’s chest, sending him stumbling backward. Leonard recovered, tossing out a hand to contest, but James did not hesitate. He pulled up from 20 feet, easy as an August afternoon at St. V, with the same result. “I know it wasn’t the magnitude of MJ hitting that shot in ’98, but I definitely thought about him,” James said. “It was an MJ moment.” He paused as a turn of phrase came to mind. “It was an LJ moment.”

LeBron James delivers the knockout blow in the 2013 NBA Finals.

LeBron James delivers the knockout blow in the 2013 NBA Finals. (Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images)

Here at The Point Forward, we noted that James’ championship-sealing jumper in Game 7 was indeed the signature moment of his career, the perfect addition to a Finals resume that had previously included some outstanding performances but was also remembered, at least in large part, for disappointment (2007), shrinking (2011) and cramping (2012). In defeating the Spurs, James had a totally unspoiled, iconic moment that will be endlessly replayed by generations of fans — and future superstars trying to emulate him — for years to come.

A reverse angle of LeBron James' signature shot in Game 7 of the Finals.

A reverse angle of LeBron James’ signature shot in Game 7 of the Finals. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images)

What’s interesting about James’ recounting of his signature shot to Jenkins is that he manages to be both reverential to Jordan’s shot — which was indeed ever-so-slightly more dramatic — while also finding his own footing as the best candidate yet to challenge Jordan’s GOAT standing. It takes a mature, thoughtful, basketball-obsessed mind to find a way to wear both hats — and make them fit.

Sure, James should be spared the pithy “MJ never did [blank]” one-liners that pop up way too often when he does stumble. Beyond that, though, the Jordan comparisons are a service — not a disservice — to the league’s reigning MVP. They are clearly fuel for James’ fire and, importantly, they would be taking place inside his head even if our national obsession with the topic didn’t exist.

So let the conversation and debate rage on. We would only be acting unfairly toward a player as talented as James if we decided not to hold his play — indisputably established as the best among his contemporaries — against the highest historical standards. He’s earned the conversation for now, whether or not he ever manages the seemingly impossible task of unseating Jordan. Watch the shot below again — keeping in mind the extraordinary level of play exhibited by both teams in this year’s Finals — and try to convince yourself otherwise.

56 comments
SamuelParker
SamuelParker

Just let it play out...He's on some sort of track at 28. We also know that he's not gonna retire and play baseball, doesn't get hurt, etc.But im sure he'll at least be the greatest SF of all-time, does everything

jmm189
jmm189

Lebron certainly isnt MJ yet. They key word is yet. Youre telling me if you compared them both at 28 years old and didnt know Michael's future that you would say Lebron could NEVER be considered better? That seems a bit hard to believe. 

shins02
shins02

How can you call this an MJ moment?  When we think of MJ moments, especially in the playoffs, we think of GAME WINNING shots not game "sealing" shots.  How many times do we recall Jordan being so great because he made a bucket to put them up 3, 4, etc?

This is not to discount that this indeed was a big shot, or a "dagger!" as our local play-by-play announcer would have said if he called the game. (Go Wizards!) 

I don't mind the MJ vs. LBJ debate.  As the writer says, LeBron has actually EARNED the right to be compared to MJ.  This is an honor to LeBron and even Jordan in some degree because any reasonable basketball fan can recognize that LeBron is a player of a generation.  No one with his skill, size, strength, speed, etc has ever played the game.

With that said, we have to stop fishing for comparisons (both for and against LeBron).  This is not an MJ moment.  Sorry.  He had his MJ moments when LeBron hit the game winner against Orlando in the conference finals.  He had his MJ moment (actually I don't ever believe Jordan ever did this, but I would gladly be corrected if I am wrong) when he scored the final 25 points in a conference final game.  Has LeBron had his share of "shrinking" moments?  Absolutely and this should be included in the debate.  We can give LeBron his credit cause he was tremendous in Game 7 this past year.  But let's not go overboard and call this an MJ moment.  Thanks.

GeraldRosenstingel1
GeraldRosenstingel1

Let him play out his career and then let's see how good he really was. Of course his goal, to be better than MJ, is the goal that he should have, although he will never be as good as MJ. It's not a matter of how many rings someone gets. Basketball is a teamsport and nobody can will a championship all by himself. MJ was a great leader and the ultimate competitior. Kobe is not better than MJ and LJ is neither.

speaking_real
speaking_real

MJ did not have the talent that LJ has.  LJ is over-rated

M20
M20

No one who actually has an MJ moment needs to call it that. Of course, LeBron's version of an "MJ moment" is not a game winner, or a go-ahead bucket, or even his own last points in the game. I give him all the credit in the world for being the greatest player on the planet, but every time he opens his mouth he seems to say something stupid.

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

They are different players, in different times

Lebron is not MJ... nobody is MJ... but stop using "ring counting" to justify it... thats the worst way ever to say who's the best...

Joe R2
Joe R2

He will never be MJ.  Just let him be LeBron and stop with the dumb comparisons.  

darkjaws9
darkjaws9

Skillwise, strengthwise, and athletically nobody will ever outdo Wilt Chamberlain, and don't listen to those idiotic Shaq fanboys who know nothing. 

pampano
pampano

This will be Le Bron James last championship as a Heat and he will never ever get another one in the future years no matter where he plays. He might be one of the greatest of all time but not the greatest of all time. Le Bron himself  first to passed Kareem, Jordan, Kobe, Magic, Shaq and Duncan .You may be awarded another season MVP but to be the greatest NBA players counts about championship  rings.

superdamo
superdamo

at 28 yrs of age, MJ 2 Rings, 2 Finals MVP, 2 MVP.. LeBron 2 Rings, 2 Finals MVP, 4 MVP. nuff said

KareemRuiz
KareemRuiz

Lebron is in the top 8 all time!!

Stradio
Stradio

It's almost like none of the people commenting actually read the article.  Amazing.

Bahia
Bahia

MJ wants to be the greatest.  Kobe wants to be the greatest.  Lebron wants to be the greatest.  No big deal.

But who judges who as the greatest, and is it more than just my opinion against yours?  Everyone ends up weighing factors differently ... # or rings, # of mvps, # of points, quality of competition, all-around game, etc.  Makes for trivial conversation while drinking some beers.

DanielCedeño
DanielCedeño

I don't understand this campaign to make us belive LJ is at the pair of MJ, he'll never be better than MJ, 

mannasage
mannasage

Geez, if Ray Allen doesn't hit that trey with time running out in game # 6, we wouldn't be discussing MJ vs. LBJ right now, would we? Teams win championships not one star, get over yourself Lebron!!!

Mike159
Mike159

U idiots...they are saying mj moment because of the jumper he hit that sealed the game...stop being ignorant hatets..lbj is one of the best ever...noone will ever be mj...and noone will ever be lbj

StotheAtotheM
StotheAtotheM

The difference is after Jordan didn't win in his first 7 years, he didn't go and play with Barkley to make it easier to win. He got better than his competitors, not joined them.

youngvash
youngvash

@shins02 lets get this straight. we ridicule a guy for about 3 consecutive years for not performing "in the clutch." "shying away" if you will. bad passes and missed jump shots. in the 4th quarter. never was it about game winners. his stats for those are good too (they're just layups mostly, and get disqualified somehow). 

fast foward to 2013. lbj puts the jumpshot-pedal to the metal on the team that first strung together multiple chips after the bulls dynasty. no small feat. he even adds a game breaker. but somehow that misses the jordan criteria? if jordan or kobe had been in that game, we'd have been calling them assassins. cold blooded killers. ruthless. perception is what you/we make it. fans would do well to realize that.

dr.dray1991
dr.dray1991

Do you see how far off (leonard?) Was playing off of LeBron it's not that serious those shots was given to him it's not like it was a tough fade away shot or he had a defender draped all over him like jordan or kobe he's great yes but its because he's big strong and quick. He is a rebounder and an amazing passer but G.o.a.t hell No top 10 yes

dr.dray1991
dr.dray1991

Do you see how far off (leonard?) Was playing off of LeBron it's not that serious those shots was given to him it's not like it was a tough fade away shot or he had a defender draped all over him like jordan or kobe he's great yes but its because he's big strong and quick. He is a rebounder and an amazing passer but G.o.a.t hell No top 10 yes

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

@pampano lol the man is fresh off of 2 rings and at the top of his game... yeah, the greatest players have alot of rings... but hes well on his way


also if you use ring-counting as the only way for determining a players status in a team game... I feel sorry for you

darkjaws9
darkjaws9

@pampano Duncan and Kobe don't belong over Russell and Chamberlain.  

youngvash
youngvash

@mannasage where would jordan be with only 5 mvps and one finals loss? steve kerr misses that jumper in game 6 '97 and we have a whole new history book.

superdamo
superdamo

@mannasage if Steve Kerr didnt hit that 3 point shot passed by MJ in the dying seconds of the finals, MJ would have 1 ring less :)

DallasScott
DallasScott

@mannasage  

Thank you for bringing that up! All i hear now is how Lebron "dominated" "willed the heat to win" "took over in the finals" he's the best player in the league who is also very, very lucky to have a second ring. BTW... MJ never had to play a game 7 in the finals to win a ring.

jamsub
jamsub

@mannasage Who says Lebron is forgetting that shot? It is still safe to say that his play in the regular season and the playoffs got them a second championship. He has always been about the team.

Bussman24
Bussman24

@ecarl5155 how do you know?  It's not like the Bulls were killing it when they drafted MJ... it's what HE turned them into.  You cannot say he wouldn't have done the same thing in Cleveland or even, gulp, for the CLIPPERS!!!  :-)

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

@StotheAtotheM lol he just got several other HOF caliber players to play along


Cleveland wasn't the destination Chicago was and wasn't going to get those players... thats a ridiculous argument to make ---- judge people on the court, not off it otherwise you open up a whole stupid can of worms

PakaNT33
PakaNT33

@StotheAtotheM That's true, but after all those failed attempts, the Bulls finally surrounded MJ with the right blend of talent and role players to start winning those championships.  MJ would have NEVER won if it weren't for Pippen.  Basketball is a TEAM game, there is no I in TEAM.  When LeBron realized the Cavs weren't going to try and surround him with the right talent, he obviously had no choice. He'd already gotten a taste of trying to win a ring with inferior talent/role players.


youngvash
youngvash

@speaking_real @KareemRuiz just to join the group of teams that became back to back champions. and reach the finals every years. jordan at 28 was acutally close to lebron at 28. not the other way around.same chips but more mvps. 

lebron's failures have been grander if anything. somehow losing in the finals is worse than losing in the first or second round (which jordan managed numerous times). but that's not even consistent for lebron. he's like never not made it to the semis i think haha

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

@DallasScott @mannasage lol and that matters for what? MJ played different teams in different eras with a different supporting cast... 

when game7 did come up, Lebron played huge... some people just can't get over their pre-determined dislike

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

@Bussman24 @ecarl5155  The bulls were still a playoff, and good playoff , team when MJ sat out two years 

so that argument doesn't work... he was a great player but who can "hold a crappy team above water" just isn't a good comparison

StotheAtotheM
StotheAtotheM

@PakaNT33 @StotheAtotheM You have a good point about Cleveland, and don't get me wrong I think Lebron is the best player in the NBA right now, hands down, but I guess rings don't buy class, because the way he's boasting publicly and keeps talking to his "haters" makes me lose respect for him. Eventually he'll learn, like Kobe did early in his career, the less you lash out against your haters the less material they have to lash back. Just let your playing do the talking.

darkjaws9
darkjaws9

@pampano @darkjaws9 I don't like all the fanboys coming out and saying Lebron is the GOAT or second to Jordan as much as you do, but you have to give credit to skill.  A few years ago I would have said Lebron deserved blame, not for coming up short (the way everyone else blames him) but for playing too much with the ball, which can ruin the team's chances of victory against great defenses.  He changed his game and plays super on both sides of the court.  Even if he came up short it shouldn't change anyone's perception of him, he is on Mt. Rushmore even if he only has 2 championships.  It's now whether you're victorious, but how you play that should determine your place in history.