When LeBron James reflects back on the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ first NBA title in 2016, he says that accomplishment allowed him to think of himself as the best player in the game.
“That one right there made me the greatest player of all time,” James said in Episode 7 of the eight-part ESPN+ series “More Than An Athlete.”
The Cavaliers, after falling behind three games to one to Golden State in the 2016 Finals, rallied to win the last three games — including two on the road, capped off by a 93-89 win in Game 7. James scored 27 points and had 11 rebounds and 11 assists that night, and was unanimous Most Valuable Player in the series, his third Finals MVP honor.
“That’s what I felt,” he told friends and business partners Maverick Carter, Randy Mims and Rich Paul during the episode which began streaming on ESPN+ Sunday night. “I was super, super ecstatic to win one for Cleveland because of the 52-year drought. … The first wave of emotion was when everyone saw me crying, like, that was all for 52 years of everything in sports that’s gone on in Cleveland. And then after I stopped I was like — that one right there made you the greatest player of all time.
“Everybody was just talking — how (the Warriors) were the greatest team of all time, like it was the greatest team ever assembled,” he said. “And for us to come back, you know, the way we came back in that fashion I was like, ‘You did, you did something special.’ That’s probably one of the only times in my career I felt like, oh s—, like you did something special. I haven’t had, really had time, to really, like, sit back and think but that…that was a moment.”
The argument of who is the game’s greatest player — James or Michael Jordan — has been a lightning rod for NBA debate over the years. Jordan won six NBA titles to three for James. Jordan won five MVP awards, while James has won four. Both are 14-time All-Stars (James is likely to make it 15 this year); James has made the All-NBA team 14 times to 11 for Jordan (James, who joined the Los Angeles Lakers this year, is in his 16th season; Jordan played 15).
James has long said Jordan was a role model for him as a youngster. And he has talked at times about the challenge of being compared to MJ.
“My motivation is this ghost I’m chasing,” James told sports Illustrated in the summer of 2016, after winning the title in Cleveland. “The ghost played in Chicago.”
He added: “My career is totally different than Michael Jordan’s. What I’ve gone through is totally different than what he went through. 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.”
After breaking Jordan’s record for all-time playoff points in 2017, James said: “I wear the number (23) because of Mike.”
In “More Than An Athlete,” James has shared his thoughts on his childhood, working with his longtime friends and his moves from Cleveland to Miami and back to Cleveland again. The first seven episodes are available to stream on ESPN+. The final episode is scheduled to be out on Jan. 8.
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