BOSTON — The Golden State Warriors can wait.
That’s how LeBron James saw it.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were less than two hours removed from clinching their third straight Eastern Conference crown and James’ seventh consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.
An unprecedented Finals trilogy was finally set, and still, James had no interest or energy to engage the topic.
"I’m not in the right mind to even talk about Golden State," James said. "It’s too stressful, and I’m not stressed right now. They’ve been the best team in our league for the last three years, and then they added an MVP. That’s all I can give you right now."
Too much had happened in the Cavs’ 135-102 Game 5 victory over the Boston Celtics. There was almost too much historical context to dissect, and so James did what his instincts told him to do. He passed.
James had overtaken Michael Jordan as the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer on a deep three-pointer late in the third quarter. He finished with 35 points and had the record to himself at 5,995. Jordan was in his rearview mirror and still James deflected the attention like a kick-out to an open shooter in the corner.
"I think the first thing for me was seeing the excitement on Kyle (Korver’s) and Deron (Williams’) face," James said. "You’ve got one guy with 12 years, first Finals appearance, and another guy 14. So that’s the first thing I picked."
James, who earlier on Thursday suggested comparisons were only for "barbershops," tried to sidestep the Jordan topic.
But he finally conceded in a nod to the significance of the milestone.
"I wear the number because of Mike," James said. "I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike. When you’re growing up and you’re seeing Michael Jordan, it’s almost like a God. So I didn’t even 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."
James, with three titles, is still chasing Jordan’s six. He’s still a few thousand behind Jordan’s regular-season point total, too. But, as James made clear, numbers won’t define how he compares himself to Jordan.
"It has nothing to do with passing him in rings, passing him in points, passing him in MVPs. (Chasing his ghost) is just my personal goal to keep me motivated," James said. "That’s all, you guys going to have the conversations about who’s the greatest of all time, things of that nature. It doesn’t matter to me."
James also had eight rebounds and eight assists on Thursday night. Had the game not gotten out of hand in the first half, James might have played the fourth quarter and recorded his 18th playoff triple-double, which would be second all-time to Magic Johnson. And though the playoff scoring record is now his, he’s also chasing Johnson and John Stockton in the all-time postseason assists category. He’s currently third with 1,439.
All of this is to say that even though James admitted shooting fadeaways as a kid like Mike, and wearing wristbands and leg sleeves and red shoes and short shorts — "so you could see my undershorts underneath" — like Mike, he still has his own legacy.
"How can I get the youth to feel like passing the ball is OK, making the extra pass is OK," James wondered. "Drawing two defenders and no matter if you win or lose, if you make the right play, it’s OK. 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."
With the unblemished Warriors waiting, James opted to douse them in accolades rather than cast any barbs. There was too much jubilation and joy in the Cavs’ locker room to wade into that territory. Thursday was about James inching closer to Jordan, not the Finals matchup looming out West.
© 2018 USATODAY.COM