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Analysis: James having fun on court, with fans

The SportsXchange

MIAMI -- Maybe it's the fact that he finally won his first NBA title last year, but LeBron James sure seems like he's having a blast.

We've seen snippets of the Miami Heat forward's joy in the first half of this season, including the time a fan made a half-court shot to win a $75,000 cash prize and James rushed over to bear-hug him. The strength of James' hug forced them both to the ground as fans at American Airlines Arena roared.

Then there was the time a loose ball went into the stands. A fan retrieved the ball, and James passed it back to him in a lighthearted moment.

Think that fan didn't leave the arena with a story he will remember forever about the time he played catch with LeBron James?

James hasn't just interacted with fans. He's also shown his appreciation for Miami's other team. That would be the University of Miami Hurricanes, the hottest team in college basketball.

Three Heat players -- James, Dwyane Wade and James Jones -- showed up at a recent Canes game against North Carolina. When two Canes players combined on a spectacular dunk, James and his teammates gave the kids a standing ovation.

As good as James is at playing basketball -- the consensus is that he is the best in the world at the moment -- he has become highly proficient of late at public relations.

Some critics won't soon forget the inconsiderate way he left the Cleveland Cavaliers or the arrogant victory celebration after the Heat signing before there was any ... you know ... victory.

But if those same critics are fair, they will notice that James has had no missteps of late -- on the court or in the court of public opinion.

James' popularity is at an all-time high. His jersey, for example, is the biggest seller in the NBA, passing the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant.

Winning helps, of course. Beyond the 2012 NBA championship, the Heat also closed the first half of the season with seven straight wins, the longest active streak in the league.

James has also been on a roll, scoring 30 points or more in each of those last seven games. His 27.3 scoring average ranks third in the NBA.

Most impressive is the fact that James has improved his shooting percentage five straight years. This season, he is shooting 56.5 percent, which would represent a sixth consecutive year of improvement as well as a career high.

He is also working on career highs in three-point percentage (42.4) and rebounds (8.2). His 6.9 assists average, combined with his scoring and rebounding, makes him a serious triple-double threat just about every game.

James has been so good that some in the media have said he has approached or even surpassed Michael Jordan as a basketball talent.

Anybody who says that needs to pump the breaks, though. Jordan was more than just a 10-time NBA scoring champion. He was a versatile talent who made the NBA's All-Defensive first team nine times.

And for such a prolific scorer, it's amazing to note that Jordan finished 1989 with an 8.0 assists average. He drew repeated double-teams and was a willing and skilled passer -- as long as he remained convinced his teammate was going to make the shot.

That's why he won six NBA titles -- Jordan was all about winning, and he demanded excellence of his teammates.

James is not like Mike -- not yet and maybe not ever.

But he's the best in today's NBA, passing Bryant in that department just as surely as his jersey now flies out of NBA stores faster than that of the Lakers star.

James' biggest rival now is the Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant. One metric shows that Durant is actually the better shooter and the better overall player.

Suffice to say the numbers are at least comparable, and it could be argued that James gets the edge because his Heat beat Durant's Thunder in last year's NBA Finals.

Not that the individual comparisons are of any concern to James.

When Jordan came out in support of Bryant -- and not James as the heir to his basketball throne -- the Miami Heat star was unfazed.

Last week, James sent out a tweet to his 7.3 million followers:

"I'm LJ, not MJ," he wrote.

It was a tweet that fit right in with his 2012-2013 season -- efficient, precise and perfectly entertaining.

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