INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Now that LeBron James has won a championship for the ages, he’s set a loftier goal:
Catching Michael Jordan.
Long flattered to be mentioned in the same company with Jordan and other NBA legends, James has been hesitant to publicly acknowledge that he wants to be remembered as the greatest in league history.
It’s time now.
“It’s a personal goal,” James told The Associated Press on Monday. “I just never brought it up. It’s my own personal goal to be able to be greater than great. I think that should be everybody’s personal goal.”
James became a three-time champion when he helped end Cleveland’s 52-year title drought with a historic comeback from a 3-1 deficit to Golden State in last season’s finals.
On Monday, James discussed a variety of topics during a 10-minute interview with the AP after he spoke at the Cavs’ media day. James touched upon the fear he feels as a parent in light of recent police shootings and violence, his longevity and relentless drive to win and what impact All-Star Kevin Durant’s signing with the Warriors will have on him.
James has revered Jordan since he was a kid. Like every other young basketball player in America, he wanted to be like Mike.
He modeled himself after No. 23 on the court and followed some of Air Jordan’s moves off it as a businessman and sneaker-wearing, multi-million dollar corporation. James has often rejected the obvious comparisons between him and Jordan, but shortly after winning it all this summer with the Cavs, he told Sports Illustrated that “my motivation is this ghost I’m chasing. The ghost played in Chicago.”
Jordan’s spirit has consumed James and continually fueled him. His desire to match the Bulls legend, who won six championships, shouldn’t be viewed as anything unusual. He feels everyone should yearn to reach their potential — and beyond.
We should all aim higher.
“If you work for any company or you work for any designer or anywhere, you’re like, ‘Oh, I aspire to be that guy because he’s done it right.’ He’s the greatest and that’s who you look at,” he said. “So that’s always been my personal goal, to use the motivation he gave me as a kid and I’ll use it as motivation now as well that I want to get to where he is. That’s never changed. People kind of wanted to turn it into a conversation, but that’s my personal goal and that’s where I land at.”
James joked that he needs “two more months” to recover before starting the new season. But it’s here as the Cavaliers, for the first time as defending champions, will open training camp Tuesday.
James didn’t spend much time reflecting this summer because he had other commitments. However, he said the retirements of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett — a trio of the hoops icons — has made him consider his legacy and basketball mortality.
At 31, he sees the end of his career for the first time.
“Yeah,” he said. “My class is next.”
James entered the league along with Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, close friends he has hinted at playing with before hanging it up. For now, they are becoming some of the game’s elder statesmen, a fact accented by a larger patch of gray in James’ beard.
“We’re next up in line,” he said. “We’ve given the game all we can give. We’re the next crew, so it definitely makes you reflect on everything and you don’t take anything for granted. I never do, but in my career I’ve always been like, ‘Man, this is an unbelievable moment I’ve been put in.’ I try to give as much as I can. But we on deck.”
James’s next challenge is one he’s faced before — to repeat. It’s all new to the Cavaliers, who have never been on top and could suffer from a post-championship hangover. James has seen it happen, and he’ll do all he can so it won’t happen this season.
He’s going to make the Cavs keep their edge.
“I’m just as hungry as I was before,” he said. “It’s like I haven’t won. The natural, human nature would be to relax. But you work so hard and then you see what the result is. Why not have that feeling again?”
Cleveland celebrated its first title since 1964 with a party that carried deep into the summer. It began with a parade through the city’s streets, which overflowed and engulfed James and his teammates. It was moving and motivating, something James will treasure for the rest of his life.
“Incredible, man,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do. That’s what I came back for, to allow this city and region to celebrate. To know that I had a hand in making people forget everything that went on in Cleveland sports history, whether it was 60-year-old men and women or 13-year-old boys and girls, it’s all been incredible.”
The Cavs’ path to a repeat could be made harder by Durant’s decision to join Stephen Curry and Co. in the Bay Area. The move jolted the league. James didn’t blink.
It’s not the first time a superstar has moved — if anyone knows that, it’s James. He’s readied his body for the eight-month grind ahead, and there appear no signs of him slowing down soon.
“When I’m done,” he said. “I feel good.”
Good enough for 10 more years?
“Yeah,” he said, laughing. “That would give me a chance to play with my son or against my son.”