OKLAHOMA CITY – Michael Jordan will be feted like royalty during NBA All-Star weekend in the buildup to his 50th birthday on Sunday, and rightfully so. The legacy he's left on the league is unmatched.
For now, at least.
The way LeBron James is playing these days, he could be headed for a similar coronation on Dec. 30, 2034 – the day he turns 50.
"We will see," James said after delivering another monstrous performance with 39 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists to upstage Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 110-100 victory for the Miami Heat on Thursday night.
James owns a uniquely skilled all-around game that rates among the best in NBA history, alongside that of Jordan, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell and Larry Bird. What's separating James from those legends, however, is the number of championships he's won. He's less than a year removed from claiming his first. Jordan, Johnson, Russell and Bird each won at least three.
"People get caught up in that a lot, the titles," James said. "There are guys that have more titles than some of the greats. I don't like throwing people out there, but you look at Jud Buechler. Three titles with the Bulls. Is he better than Charles Barkley? Bill Wennington. Is he better than Patrick Ewing? People get caught up into it a lot, but I understand it.
"You have to win a championship or two to be put into that category. But if you just want to talk about a guy's body of work, a guy's individual body of work, Charles Barkley is one of the greatest to ever step on the floor. Patrick Ewing is one of the best. Reggie Miller is one of the best. That's why they are in the Hall of Fame."
James will be in the Hall of Fame someday, too, regardless of whether he wins another championship. But given the way he's playing, it's hard to see him not securing multiple titles before the end of his career.
This season, James has dominated the NBA in a fashion that has been rarely seen since Jordan. He became the first player in NBA history to score at least 30 points while shooting 60 percent from the field for six straight games – a streak that ended against the Thunder when he shot 58.3 percent (14 of 24). For the season, he's averaging 27.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists while shooting 56.5 percent.
No longer does James seem hesitant to take the big shots. He's also showing some swag on the court. Three times, he told the Thunder crowd to hush up after making key plays in the fourth quarter. Each time, the crowd went silent.
James accepts why he draws comparisons to Jordan, but he doesn't always like it.
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"You don't want to be continued to be compared to someone," James told Yahoo! Sports. "M.J. is one of the greatest that ever played. I don't know if I'll ever put in enough work to be mentioned with him, but I'm also at a point where I'm trying to make my own lane.
"I understand the comparisons. …Some of them are fair. Some of them are unfair to him. I know he's looking at it like, 'Guys shouldn't be compared to me.'"
The key to James' improvement, he said, was ridding himself of the negativity surrounding him after he departed Cleveland and fell short in the 2011 NBA Finals with the Heat. The eventual reward was a third MVP award, an elusive title and the return of his popularity and mental peace.
"It's a process," James said. "And that's with anything in life, it has to have a process. You can't just say you're going to do something and it happens right away.
"After we lost to Dallas, I took three weeks and did absolutely nothing. I got away. And then I went back to work. I went back to Ohio to my high school and got my work in. And that's when I started to say, 'Hey, everything else doesn't matter.' It's how I approach the game. Let's get back to having fun and that's when it started and carry on over to now."
While James will arrive to Houston early Friday morning as the king of the NBA, Jordan will temporarily take over the spotlight as he celebrates his 50th birthday. But give James a couple decades. He'll deserve his own party and his own legacy.
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