CLEVELAND >> A generation of kids wanted to be like Michael Jordan. They bought his red-and-black Nikes and sported his No. 23 Bulls jersey. They mimicked Jordan’s spin move and fadeaway jumper and even wagged their tongues the way he did on a flight to the rim.
While millions worshipped Jordan, only a handful entered his rarefied air.
LeBron James lives there.
Without a father in his life, James viewed Jordan as a role model and on Friday night the indomitable Cleveland Cavaliers star, playing at an MVP level in his 15th NBA season, likely will surpass a record held by a player he once admired “like a god.”
On Wednesday night in Charlotte, James equaled Jordan’s NBA mark by scoring in double digits in 866 consecutive games, an extraordinary streak of consistency and durability that may not end until James wants it to. No one else seemingly can stop him.
Once he scores 10 points against New Orleans, probably at some point in the first half Friday night, James will surpass Jordan’s record and add another checkmark to his side in the greatest-player-of-all-time debate.
To put the streak in context, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is third at 787 games, followed by Karl Malone at 575. Among current players, James Harden is second to James with 257 games, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
James typically avoids talking about his accomplishments, saying that’s what he’ll do once he retires. But the double-digit scoring streak, which dates to Jan. 5, 2007, and an eight-point game against Milwaukee in his fifth season, has turned him somewhat reflective.
“I’ve stayed available, obviously,” James said following a 41-point, 10-rebound, 8-assist performance in a win over the Hornets. “I haven’t played every game but for the most part I’ve played over 70 percent of my games throughout that journey. … It’s just another feat for me to be appreciative and humbled by what I’ve been able to do. And just knowing where I come from, I look at it and say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m in this position,’ knowing where I come from.”
As a child being raised by a single mom, James found father figures in the coaches who helped him refine his game. There were others in Akron, Ohio, who protected the basketball prodigy and made sure he didn’t stray from a path toward greatness.
Then there was Jordan, whose blend of passion, skill and artistry made an indelible impression on a young James.
“I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike, just because of what he was able to accomplish,” James said last year after breaking Jordan’s playoff scoring record. “When you’re watching Michael Jordan, it’s almost like a god. So I didn’t think I could be Mike.”
And yet James has surpassed expectations and more than lived up to the “Chosen One” label, a tag he got in high school and had tattooed across his shoulders before turning pro.
One of the few coaches who worked with Jordan and James, Cavaliers assistant Larry Drew was asked to compare the two hardwood heroes.
“Oh man, that’s a tough one,” said Drew, filling in while Cleveland coach while Tyronn Lue is on medical leave. “Certainly Michael was as good of a finesse player as there was. You just never seen anything like LeBron with his size, his speed, his power. He’s something different. But the one thing that both guys do have in common, they’re really driven to win and to be the best.”
Watching James catch and overtake Jordan has been thrilling to his teammates, who are continually awed by a player who shows little signs of wear. James told The Associated Press earlier this week that he would vote for himself as MVP this season, and there’s not a player on Cleveland’s roster who would oppose his case.
James has excelled during perhaps the most challenging season of his career as the Cavs have been ravaged by injuries and overhauled with three major trades at the deadline.
J.R. Smith is savoring the chance to witness greatness.
“It’s pretty dope,” the forward said. “It seems like every game it’s something. When you’re up there with Mike, it’s a different level. You can actually sit there and tell your grandkids hopefully one day that you were part of that. … It’s kind of overwhelming at times.”
Jordan, the Hornets’ majority owner, didn’t attend Wednesday’s game, which ended with the hoop-savvy Charlotte crowd standing to salute and serenade James with chants of “M-V-P!”
It was a moment to set aside loyalty and honor a once-in-a-generation player.
“Everywhere we go he gets a standing ovation,” Smith said. “It’s like watching Michael Jackson on tour.”