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posted: 4/26/2010 12:01 AM

Yes, LeBron will be NBA's greatest ever

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Bulls fans can say they saw the greatest player ever to play the game of basketball.

Sorry, no, not Michael Jordan. Not in 10 years or so. Not by the time LeBron James completes his career with the Cavaliers, some other NBA team or dare we say perhaps even the Bulls.

There, I said it, and it's a relief to do so: King James eventually will succeed His Royal Airness as the best basketball player ever.

If I didn't think that before, I did after watching the Cavaliers trounce the Bulls 121-98 in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference playoff series.

Bulls fans didn't know whether to laugh or cry, cheer or boo. They wound up gasping, like when James hit a jump shot from just inside midcourt to end the third quarter.

And like when James hit 3 straight 3-pointers during less than two minutes of the fourth quarter. And like when he burst down the lane to slam down a violent dunk in the first quarter.

Overall James scored 37 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and distributed 11 assists.

"LeBron had a terrific game with his triple-double," Cavs coach Mike Brown said.

Was it routinely terrific or especially terrific?

"It was a spectacular performance," Brown responded, "but this is what this man is capable of doing."

Listen, I know how great Jordan was. I covered his career from draft day through two retirements from the Bulls.

When Jordan finally was finished for good, to me it was unimaginable that anyone's career would surpass his. I concluded recently that Kobe Bryant would approach Jordan but fall short of him.

Bryant's problem - if you can call it that - is that he tried to be better than Jordan by being Jordan. James is an entirely different animal, competing for greatest ever with an entirely different body and somewhat different game.

A good guess is that James won't match Jordan's feat of six NBA titles in the span of the six full seasons he played. Nor will he be as sensational or as beloved.

Those things are out of James' control. But I'm thinking James would win a few titles of his own if surrounded by Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant or Dennis Rodman.

While still chasing his first title James also is doing what the best of the best do: He's chasing the ghosts of the greatest players to play his game.

Remember, James is doing, and will continue to do, what he's doing at 6-feet-8, 265 pounds.

James uses that size to do what Magic Johnson used to do, what Larry Bird used to do and, yes, what Michael Jordan used to do.

Whenever James wants to, he does what point guards do, what shooting guards do, what small forwards do, what point forwards do, what power forwards do, and even what 7-foot centers do.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying that James is going to obliterate the memory of Jordan.

I'm just saying that before LeBron James is done he'll be considered a slightly better player than Michael Jordan was.

Sunday's crowd of 23,058 in the United Center will be able to say they saw him on the way to getting there.