INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Ever since LeBron James donned the No. 23 at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and became a nationally known hoops phenomenon, the comparisons to Michael Jordan followed.
On the eve of his 32nd birthday, James was asked whether he has pondered Jordan at age 32, as MJ turned in perhaps his finest season as a pro at that age back in 1995-96, leading the Chicago Bulls to a then-all-time best 72-10 record, which the Golden State Warriors beat last season.
“No, I haven’t [compared myself to him at this age], because our games are so different,” James said Thursday after the Cleveland Cavaliers held shootaround in preparation for their game against the Boston Celtics. “As much as he was, he was much more of a scorer, and that point did a lot of, a lot of post work at that time.
“But our games are just different. His body is different. My body is different than his. So, just, you recognize the dominance that someone had at that age, at that age you recognize his dominance, but there’s no similarities in our game at all.”
James wouldn’t even allow for the similarities between his fadeaway jumper and Jordan’s, even though mashup videos have started to surface online comparing the virtually indefensible shot that both players possess.
“Nah, it’s different,” James said. “He has much more lift in his fadeaway than mine. That was definitely a go-to move of his. Our games are completely different.”
Jordan averaged 30.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.2 steals at age 32, while shooting 49.5 percent from the field and a career-best 42.7 percent from 3. James is averaging 25.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 8.6 assists and 1.4 steals this season while shooting 51.3 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from 3.
The Cavs, while not on a 72-10 pace, have won the last nine games in which James has played.
“He’s a mixture between a few players,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said before Thursday night’s game against the Boston Celtics. “He’s got the explosiveness and power of Dominique Wilkins, the scoring ability of Jordan at times. The court vision and the way he pushes the pace like Magic Johnson and having the height, so he’s a mixture between three guys, and as far as a comparison between him and Jordan, the comparisons I have is when you’re on top, the best player in the league for so long and having to carry that each and every year and never get knocked down off that pedestal, that’s a big accomplishment because guys are coming for you and you’re a target, and to always stay on top no matter what, always being that best player in the league, that’s how I compare him and Jordan.”
If James doesn’t want to compare himself to Jordan, at least he can compare himself to himself, and the numbers show he is enjoying a better season this year than he was last year when he turned 31 years old. In 2015-16 he averaged 25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 52 percent from the floor and 30.9 percent from 3.
“It must be the wine drinking,” joked James, who has increasingly shared his love for vino on his Instagram account. “Get better with age, I guess. I just feel great. I’ve told you guys, I feel great. I’ve conditioned myself and I’m having one of the best statistical [outputs across all] categories seasons of my career so far and I just want to try to continue to keep it going.”
If there is anything to be gleaned by the arc of Jordan’s career compare to James’, it’s that perhaps the best is still yet to come for the King. Jordan won titles Nos. 4-6 at ages 32-34. If you look at James’ career versus Jordan’s career just up until the season in which they turned 32, James outpaces Jordan in MVP awards (4-3), Finals appearances (7-3) and is tied in championships (3-3).
Turning the page on age 31 also means saying goodbye to 2016 for James, a year in which he helped bring an end to a 52-year championship drought in Cleveland and was named the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the year, the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year as well as an ESPY winner for Best Male Athlete, Best NBA Player and Best Championship Performance.
“It was a great year,” James said. “Not only for me in my professional career but for me as a father, a husband and things of that nature, my family is happy and my foundation, it’s been a great year. But I’m not a start-over guy on the first of the year. I just try to continue it, keep it going. I’m not New Year’s resolution guy, I don’t say, ‘Let’s get to a new start.’ Let’s just keep it going. My calendar doesn’t stop. My hours continue to go and we want to continue to be as great as we can be even going into January 1st.”