LeBron James turns 32 on Friday, and there are no signs of him becoming any less dominant. He's not quite as explosive as he was when he came into the league, but when he led the Cleveland Cavaliers back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals last year, his all-around play was as brilliant as the league has ever seen. On Thursday, a reporter asked James if he had studied how Michael Jordan had adapted at this point in his career -- Jordan won three straight titles and two Most Valuable Player awards after his 33rd birthday.
"No, I haven't," James told reporters, "because our games are so different. He was much more of a scorer. And at that point, did a lot of post work at that point in time. But our games are just different. His body is different. My body is different than his. So it's just, you recognize the dominance that someone had at that age. At that age, you recognize the dominance. But there's no similarities in our game at all."
Even the turnaround fadeaway jumper?
"No, it's different," James said. "He had much more lift in his fadeaway than mine. That was definitely a go-to move of his, but nah. Our games are completely different."
A few thoughts:
- It's a little weird that James said there are absolutely no similarities, but that doesn't mean he's taking a shot at Jordan. When he said he was chasing Jordan's ghost (in Lee Jenkins' phenomenal Sports Illustrated story last summer), it was a sign of respect and admiration. James has always looked up to Jordan and considers him the best player in NBA history. That doesn't mean he has to see himself as the same type of player.
- It's not difficult to figure out what James means here. He led the league in scoring in 2008, but that will probably not happen again. Stylistically, he has always been more of an all-around playmaker than Jordan, and he often functions as the Cavs' point guard in a way that Jordan never really did for the Chicago Bulls. James has drawn comparisons to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird because of his versatility, and when he was with the Miami Heat, ESPN's Tom Haberstroh repeatedly called him a freak hybrid of Shaquille O'Neal and Steve Nash. It would be a mistake to label Jordan as only a pure scorer, but at his size he could play all the positions that James can.
- James approaches the game much differently than Jordan did, but the question that prompted this whole thing was fair. In fact, James has already made adjustments to his game in the last few years, just like Jordan. Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney recently did a deep dive into the subtle ways that James' game has changed, and while he's not taking as many fadeaways in the post as Jordan did, the objective is basically the same: controlling the game and manipulating defenders without relying heavily on athleticism.