Fortified by two NBA championships rings, LeBron James is setting loftier goals.
Speaking at Miami Heat media day this week, James set the tone for his quest to win a third straight title.
"I want to be the greatest of all time," James said. "That's my motivation. It's that simple. It's not simple. But for me it is. That's my mind frame.
If this were football or baseball, there would be some debate about which is the player to beat for the title, "Greatest of All Time."
In basketball, there's not. James clearly has his sights set on the guy locked in perpetual flight on the east side of the United Center.
"I feel like I have the potential to continue to get better and to maximize my time while I play this game of basketball," James added. "I want to be the greatest."
James is no dummy. He knows there's a long way to go before surpassing Michael Jordan. Winning championships was a necessary step and he's done that.
I've always claimed there's no point trying to compare James and Jordan, because they are different players. Jordan was an alpha dog scorer who always had the ball in his hands with the game on the line. Kobe Bryant is a better comparison for Jordan. Bryant gave it a good shot, but he's not going to surpass MJ as the greatest of all time.
James is a stellar distributor who probably compares better to Scottie Pippen in style of play. Of course, James has gone way beyond Pippen's offensive capabilities. Instead of praising James for being a brilliant team player, he gets criticized for not being Jordan.
But with these comments, James has invited those comparisons himself.
"It's not to be the greatest of all time in anyone else's book or how they judge the greats," James said. "It's for me. I'm far away from it, but I see the light."
Maybe James knows he's going to have to do more for Miami to contend for a third straight title. The 1998 Bulls sort of grew old together, but Jordan never had to carry a bunch of older players, since he always had Pippen by his side.
It's possible the Power Trio era has already peaked. Ray Allen is 38, Shane Battier and Chris Andersen are 35, Udonis Haslem is 33. Dwyane Wade will turn 32 during the season. Chris Bosh, 29, has never been much of a factor in crunchtime. New addition Greg Oden is 25 going on 55.
As great as James played last season, Miami wouldn't have made it to Game 7 of the Finals unless Allen saved Game 6 with a tying 3-pointer.
The Heat needed seven games to win the Eastern Conference finals the past two years,l and the competition in the East figures to be stronger this time. The Bulls have Derrick Rose back, Brooklyn filled the weak spots in its lineup with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, while Indiana moves into Year Two of Paul George as the league's newest superstar.
James turns 29 in December, which means he's closing in on the age when Jordan took a two-year break from the NBA. Recharging his batteries on the baseball field probably made Jordan stronger for the second title run. James has never taken a break, never missed more than seven games in a season and also played in three Olympics.
Miami is still the team to beat this season, but James' challenge seems to be even greater.
Meanwhile, Jordan did a sit-down interview to help promote a video game and was asked which player he'd most like to face 1-on-1.
This is Jordan's full answer:
"That list is very long: Start off with Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Kobe Bryant in his prime, LeBron in his prime, D-Wade in his prime, Melo (Carmelo Anthony). That's a good start. I don't think I'd lose -- other than Kobe Bryant, because he steals all my moves."
Naturally, some Miami media members turned that statement into: "I would beat LeBron 1-on-1, Jordan claims."
On Tuesday, James was asked to respond.
"MJ said that? I've thought about the matchup, but no one will ever see it and it's not going to happen," he said.
Well put. Now the rest of us will have to judge the Jordan-James battle using other methods.
•The Bulls did not practice Tuesday. They'll return to the court Wednesday at the Berto Center.