CLEVELAND -- For most of his basketball career, Cleveland Cavaliers star forward LeBron James was chasing the ghost of arguably the greatest player in the sport’s history, Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan.
In one sense, James caught up to at least part of that ghost when he passed Jordan for the most points scored in NBA Playoffs history with a 35-point showing in Thursday night’s 135-102 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden.
“At the end of the day, for my name to come up in the discussion with the greatest basketball player of all time, it's like, ‘Wow,’” James said after leading a team to the NBA Finals for the seventh straight season. “I did pretty much everything that MJ did when I was a kid.”
Cleveland Cavaliers take on Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals
With his 28-point showing over the first two-plus quarters of Game 5, James moved ahead of Jordan, who scored 5,987 points in just 179 playoff games with the Bulls, but the Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary alum was far from finished building onto his newest record.
James scored a game-high 35 points on 13-of-18 shooting, including a four-for-seven showing from three-point range.
James added eight rebounds, eight assists, three steals and one blocked shot over 35 minutes of action. For the second time in three games at Boston in the East Finals, James and his fellow starters did not play in the fourth quarter because of the Cavaliers’ lead.
“I wear the number because of Mike,” James said. “I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike, just seeing what he was able to accomplish. When you're growing up and you're seeing Michael Jordan, it's almost like a god.
“I didn't ever believe I could be Mike. I started to focus on myself, on other players and other people around my neighborhood because I never thought that you could get to a point where Mike was, so I think that helped shape my game.
“I think the biggest thing for me sitting here today after breaking the all-time scoring record in playoff history is that I did it just being me. I don't have to score the ball to make an impact in the basketball game. That was my mindset when I started playing the game. I was like, ‘If I'm not scoring the ball, how can I still make an impact on the game?’ It's carried me all the way to this point now, and it's going to carry me for the rest of my career because scoring is not No. 1 on my agenda.”
What is high on James’ agenda is doing for the next generation of basketball players what Jordan did during his heyday: inspire others to work and strive for greatness.
“It's been part of the plan since I really started taking this game serious, to say how can I get the youth to feel like passing the ball is okay, making the extra pass is okay, drawing two defenders and no matter if you win or lose, if you make the right play, it's okay,” James said.
“Scoring the ball is so heralded in our sport. I want the fundamentals of the game to be as great as they can be, and if some kid or a group of kids from the West Coast or the East Coast or the Midwest or the South and everything in-between, all around the world can look at me and say, ‘Well, I made the extra pass because LeBron made the extra pass,’ or ‘I got a chase-down block and I didn't give up on the play because LeBron didn't give up,’ that would mean the world to me.”