CLEVELAND — LeBron James relished the 2022 NBA All-Star Game perhaps more than any other among his 18 career appearances.
It was in Cleveland, just north of his hometown of Akron, Ohio. His Team LeBron won the contest for the fifth consecutive season. His wife, children and mother were at the game, and James spent much of the weekend with his childhood friends. The win provided $450,000 for James’ I Promise Scholars Program.
And James made the winning shot, a fadeaway jumper he said was inspired by Michael Jordan.
Speaking of Jordan, James made time to greet Jordan at halftime when the league’s 76 greatest players were recognized for the NBA’s 75th anniversary season. James doesn’t address this topic often. The two don’t have a close relationship for reasons that are probably rooted in many competitive impulses. Maybe this is the beginning of a different relationship for the two.
“I did not want to lose the opportunity to shake the man’s hand that inspired me throughout my childhood,” James said. “I haven’t had much dialogue with him in my 20 years or 19 years in this business, but part of me wouldn’t be here without MJ’s inspiration. I always wanted to be like him growing up.
“It’s crazy that the game-winning shot tonight was a fadeaway, and it was inspired by MJ. The way he wore his shoes, the way he wore his uniform, I mean, all the way down to some of the cars that he drove, how much he inspired me. I didn’t want to waste that opportunity because we’re just not in the same building a lot and haven’t been in the same building a lot throughout my career.
“It meant something to me.”
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In a fulfilling career that exceeded the seemingly impossible expectations with four championships, four MVPs, four Finals MVPs and three All-Star MVPs, James does not have many pinch-me moments left, his Basketball Hall of Fame induction being one of them.
He had one on Sunday, on stage with friends, contemporaries, rivals and heroes.
James had a lot to say this weekend, some of it calculated. And as he sat on the dais late Sunday night, he tried to explain what the night and weekend meant to him.
“To be a part of the 75 greatest basketball players to ever play, it just takes me back to my childhood once again growing up in Spring Hill and having all my inspirations taped on my wall, Allen Iverson and Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson,” James said. “To see those guys today and then be on stage with those guys. You guys don’t understand. I’m trying to make you understand as much as I can, but it’s just crazy.”
But asked to do his best to explain it, he offered this:
“It would be like going to your favorite musician’s concert in the greatest stadium, and you are literally on stage with them while they’re performing, and the sense of ‘I can’t believe that I’m here.’ That’s the best way that I can put it. I can’t believe I’m sitting next to Bruce Springsteen while he is playing in a stadium in London with 160,000 people, or I’m in the Garden with Jay-Z or whoever that person is. I’m sitting here with Whitney Houston onstage in a coliseum with 90,000 people and you’re on stage. That’s kind of what it felt like for me. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Twenty-five years ago, when the All-Star Game in Cleveland honored the game’s greatest 50 players, James was just 11 years old, his amazing basketball future just a dream.
“I remember 25 years ago we were 12, 11, wishing that we had the opportunity or the means to come up to Cleveland and see some of the greatest basketball players of all time because they inspired us so much,” James said. “For me to be here today, for my best friends to be here, for my wife and my kids and my family, my mom. There are so many people that seen me grow from really a young toddler to who I am today. I couldn’t picture that moment any better.”
He was embraced by the crowd in the arena, many of whom are Cavaliers fans who have James to thank for Cleveland’s 2016 NBA championship.
“It’s just super dope. Super, super, super dope, and I was very humbled and appreciative of that,” James said.
James admitted he won’t be this open, this effusive the rest of the season as he tries to get the struggling Los Angeles Lakers into better position for the playoffs. But in the moment, he absorbed the experience.
“I hope I’ll never forget this moment,” he said. “It would be cool if 25 years from now when they do the top 100 that it’s back here. I’ll probably never forget this moment. It’s something that I’m glad my kids got to witness. Then when my grandkids show up at some point, I’ll be able to show them some footage of what their granddad was able to accomplish when he played the game of basketball.”
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.