LOS ANGELES — From the very first day LeBron James picked up a basketball, he wanted to be like Mike.
James and his closest friends idolized Michael Jordan while they grew up together on Akron’s competitive playgrounds and tough streets. As James grew into a tantalizing basketball prospect capable of jumping from high school to the NBA as the No. 1 draft pick, he studied, imitated and drew profound inspiration from Jordan’s tongue-wagging dunks, that fadeaway jumper, his competitive fire — even the little details of the way Jordan wore his sneakers and shorts.
James proudly put No. 23 on his back as soon as he could get it as a high school sophomore.
“He was everything,” James said.
Jordan has also admired James’ game for years.
“I want to congratulate LeBron on achieving another great milestone during his amazing career,” Jordan said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday through his spokeswoman, Estee Portnoy.
When James surpassed Jordan’s career points total Wednesday night, he did it in a pair of Nikes with “Thank You M.J.” written neatly on the side. That tribute doesn’t begin to encompass what Jordan’s radiance meant to a youngster who dreamed of finding a better life through basketball.
“M.J. was an inspiration,” James said. “M.J. was the lightning in a bottle for me, because I wanted to be like him.”
James has grown into a 34-year-old man with three championship rings and a redoubtable 16-year NBA career. Yet he is still in awe of Jordan, who has represented the apex of achiev