OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — LeBron James changed his jersey number, won an NBA championship and still is inevitably compared to Michael Jordan at nearly every opportunity.
With James producing at a record-setting clip that no one had ever reached, just as Jordan’s 50th birthday approaches this weekend, classifying James’ place in NBA history couldn’t be a hotter topic.
James wants no part of it, posting on Twitter that he’s “not MJ.” And his peers say it’s time to back off all the comparisons.
“It’s simple. There will never be another Michael Jordan,” said Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade, who grew up in Chicago watching Jordan’s games. “He was the first to do a lot of things. Whenever you’re the first, there can never be another.
“But you know what? That guy down there (James), he’s in the beginning of starting his own path. There will be someone who will be compared to the next LeBron James, but there will never be another one of him. Certain guys are that special and that unique.”
James’ NBA record six-game streak of at least 30 points while shooting 60 percent or better ended on Thursday against Oklahoma City when he scored 39 points and shot 58 percent in the Heat’s 110-100 win.
Doing something that even Jordan never did on his way to six NBA titles made James the buzz of the league heading into All-Star weekend. But it wasn’t the most important thing to James.
“It didn’t bother me during the game or not, if I was shooting 60 percent or not,” James said. “I just go out and play my game, and that was the result of it. It didn’t bother me and it didn’t matter if I got it tonight or not. … To win is what it’s all about.”
And just because LeBron is adding to his own lore doesn’t mean it has to come at the expense ofJordan’s greatness.
“I think those two guys are different,” three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant said. “LeBron’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of player. I think people really were waiting for him to win the championship to compare, just like any other great player. … It’s not a knock on LeBron or taking anything from him, because the stuff he’s done is unreal as well, but it’s kind of hard to compare anybody toMichael Jordan.”
James started his NBA career wearing Jordan’s No. 23, but switched to 6 later and suggested that no one in the league should wear 23 again out of tribute to Jordan. The plan never stuck.
And while establishing his own identity, James still finds himself dodging Jordan’s impressive shadow.
“You can’t compare guys until both guys are finished playing,” Durant said. “You’ll see when Kobe Bryant’s done playing how you can compare him to Michael, Magic Johnson and LeBron, stuff like that. But while they’re playing, I don’t think you can really compare them.”
This stretch of proficiency is just another phase in James’ ascent. Where he’ll end up, whether he’ll ever approach all those titles James, Wade and Chris Bosh predicted when they joined in Miami, is still to be determined.
“Every year, he’s come back a better player for 10 years now. That’s remarkable in itself. Not a lot of guys can say that. I’m not so sure he’s at his peak, which is frightening,” said Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, a Jordan contemporary. “What he is able to do at the level that he does it on both ends of the floor, you usually don’t see. You don’t see it often.”
Jordan, although he hadn’t been in the league as long after playing at university, was 28 when he won his first championship in 1991. James had just turned 28, and Wade cautioned that he was still only starting his own, unique story.
“MJ’s legacy at 50 years old is still going strong,” Wade said, “and LeBron James’ legacy will be the same.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.