Joe DiMaggio is in our midst.
No one snickered, no one laughed when the Cavaliers’ Richard Jefferson made the comparison.
Because the level of consistent excellence, the longevity, the durability that LeBron James displayed in passing Michael Jordan to become the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer Thursday night seems like a package that is rarely put together.
So when Jefferson said after the Cavs captured the Eastern Conference championship with a victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday at TD Garden that James’ playoff scoring record is “unbreakable,” no one thought it was all that far-fetched.
When the Cavs take on the Golden State Warriors next Thursday, it will be James’ seventh consecutive NBA Finals appearance and his eighth overall. His teams have made the playoffs 12 times in his 14 seasons.
At age 32, with 5,995 postseason points, he shows no signs of slowing down. At a pace like this — scoring 30 or more points in 11 of the Cavs’ 13 playoff games and at least 35 points in seven — James could make the New Orleans Pelicans or Detroit Pistons a title contender.
There is certainly no one close to him on the playoff scoring list who can catch him. Among the active players near the top, Tony Parker (4,012) stands ninth, Dwyane Wade (3,871) 11th, Dirk Nowitzki (3,663) 15th and Kevin Durant (2,872) 28th.
The pursuer will have to be a young player with similar God-given gifts and a strong mind. He can’t be a one-man show because his team won’t get far enough in the playoffs to allow him to pile up the points.
On Thursday night, after a celebration of the conference championship with water, not champagne, Jefferson wanted to get his take on James’ accomplishment out there before anyone else. So, surrounded by a small group of cameramen and reporters, Jefferson, 36, let loose.
“His record when he’s done will be unbreakable,” Jefferson said. “Like the Joe DiMaggio hit streak and … Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100, there are certain records that will be unbreakable. Whoever tries to get to that is going to have to play in 10 NBA Finals and average 30 points a game to get there.
“What he’s doing right now is obviously on a level that has never been seen before. To pass Michael Jordan when you’re still in the prime of your career, one of the greats of all time … If he adds another 1,000 points, who’s going to be able to come in and go to 10 NBA Finals in this modern day? Just to go to the playoffs every year, average 30, just the longevity to do that, the durability to do that, most guys are fortunate to play 10 years, to play 15 years. But to have to play 12 years and go to the Finals 10 times and average 30 points a game? It’s impossible. That record, I won’t live to see that record be broken.”
Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks has stood since March 2, 1962.
DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak came in 1941, helping propel the New York Yankees to a 101-53 record and a World Series triumph over the Brooklyn Dodgers. DiMaggio was surrounded by hall of famers — Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Phil Rizzuto, Red Ruffing and manager Joe McCarthy.
‘Be like Mike’
James has wanted to “be like Mike” since he first started playing basketball. Back then, he was tall and scrawny, the inkling of what he would become drawn more from his skills and determination to develop an all-around game than his body.
“I did pretty much everything that MJ did when I was a kid,” James said of the Chicago Bulls great. “I shot fadeaways before I should have. I wore a leg sleeve 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 will be post-career, though. I even wore a wristband on my forearm. I didn’t do the hoop earring, either. That was Mike. But I did everything Mike did, man.”
Now James hopes, like Jordan, to inspire children to follow in his footsteps. But to James, that means being more than a scorer.
“Scoring the ball is so heralded in our sport,” he said. “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. We’ll see what happens. We’ll see what happens.”
James has three NBA titles to Jordan’s six, which might be the only statistic holding James back in consideration as the greatest of all time. But barring injury, more championships seem likely, even if the Cavs are big underdogs to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, which open Thursday at Oracle Arena.
‘On the green’
Asked when he finally realized he could reach Jordan’s status, James didn’t acknowledge he’s let his mind go there, although he surely has.
“I don’t — have I?” he asked.
Told that he was “on the green,” if he hasn’t, James said, “I’m not a golfer. This guy right here to my left is, though, so he’ll tell me what that means when we get on the bus.”
J.R. Smith, who had crashed James’ news conference with Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, chimed in, “He drove the green, I’ll tell you that.”
If birdie putts are championships, James is one, maybe two away from being considered the greatest, especially since he’s more than just a scorer.
That might be why no one laughed at Jefferson’s suggestion that the record is “unbreakable.” It was only fitting that one of James’ loyal veterans dreamed as big as James did when he was just a kid from Akron wearing a wristband on his forearm.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.