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2017 NBA Playoffs

LeBron James pays heartfelt tribute to Michael Jordan after breaking record

James is now the king of career postseason points with 5,995 and counting

LeBron James did it. He outscored the greatest of all time.

With a 3-pointer from the left wing late in the third quarter of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Eastern Conference finals series-clinching 135-102 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 5 on Thursday, James became the all-time leading scorer in the history of the NBA playoffs, surpassing Michael Jordan for the top spot.

James’ game-high 35 points put him at 5,995 career postseason points and counting, ahead of Jordan’s 5,987.

After the game in which King James seized Jordan’s throne as the best playoff scorer in league history, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin asked him to put his achievement into words, and the 1-minute, 19-second response he gave is nothing short of amazing.

Through his answer, we saw a side of James different from what we’ve grown accustomed to experiencing in his postgame news conferences over the years. This wasn’t the man who once told a room full of reporters during the NBA Finals, with no shame or doubt, that he was “the best player in the world.” This was the kid in James who displayed his utmost respect and humility toward his hero, Michael Jordan.

“I think, first of all, you know, I wear the number because of Mike.”

“Um, I think, first of all, you know, I wear the number because of Mike. I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike, just seeing what he was able to accomplish. But I felt like Mike was so — you know, when you’re growing up and you’re seeing Michael Jordan, it’s almost like a god. So I didn’t ever believe I could be Mike. So I started to focus myself on other players and other people around my neighborhood, because I never thought you could get to a point where Mike was. So I think that helped shape my game. And 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, and 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?’ And 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.”

High school phenomenon LeBron James of the St. Vincent-St. Mary Fighting Irish shakes hands with Michael Jordan of the Washington Wizards after Jordan’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Gund Arena on April 8, 2003, in Cleveland. The Wizards won, 100-91. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

James reached the playoff points milestone more than 14 years — 5,161 days, to be exact — after meeting his idol for the first time on April 8, 2003, following a game between the Washington Wizards and Cavaliers in Jordan’s 15th and final NBA season. James was just 18 years old and still in high school at St. Vincent-St. Mary, where he paid homage to Jordan on the court by rocking his famed No. 23. Two months after their first encounter, the Cavaliers selected James with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 draft, and upon arriving in Cleveland, he elected to continue to wear No. 23. Yet, six years into his NBA career, James spoke out against players wearing Jordan’s former number, saying the GOAT (greatest of all time) deserved the Jackie Robinson treatment with a leaguewide retirement of the No. 23.

“I feel like no NBA player should wear 23. I’m starting a petition, and I’ve got to get everyone in the NBA to sign it. Now, if I’m not going to wear No. 23, then nobody else should be able to wear it,” James said in 2009. James wore No. 6 for four seasons with the Miami Heat before returning to play for the Cavaliers in 2014 and going back to his old number.

So, fittingly in Game 5, No. 23 broke the original No. 23’s all-time playoff scoring record, although James admitted after the game that his quest to be like the GOAT while growing up went far beyond his jersey number.

“I did pretty much everything that MJ did when I was a kid,” James said. “I shot fadeaways before I should have. I wore a leg sleeve on my leg and folded it down so you saw the red part. I wore black-and-red shoes with white socks. I wore short shorts so you could see my undershorts underneath. I didn’t go bald like Mike, but I’m getting there … it’ll be post-career, though. That’s the only thing I didn’t do.

“But other than that, I did everything Mike did. I even wore a wristband on my forearm. You know, so … I didn’t do a hoop earring, either. That was Mike. But I did everything Mike did, man. I wanted to be Mike. And so, for my name to come up in any discussion of Michael Jordan, or Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], and all these great guys that have paved the way for myself and Tristan [Thompson] and Kev[in Love] and Swish [J.R. Smith], it’s like … it’s just a wow factor. I really don’t have nothing to say.”

These heartfelt words, however, weren’t even the best way James honored the man whose record he broke. On this historic night, James’ most important tribute could be found after the game in his locker, where the new playoff scoring leader kept a pair of Air Jordan 1s.

Aaron Dodson is an associate editor at The Undefeated. Often mistaken for Aaron Dobson, formerly of the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals, he was one letter away from being an NFL wide receiver.