After winning his third championship with an epic comeback from down 3-1 to the Golden State Warriors in 2016, LeBron James told campers at his summer clinic he was "chasing the ghost" of Michael Jordan. Still stuck at half Jordan's six-title total a year later, James laid out a plan for catching His Airness in a wide-ranging interview with GQ.
He said he'd reach the goal "if I was the most consistent and was at the top of the food chain more than anybody in NBA history."
It was against those Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals in May when James passed Jordan to become the all-time scoring leader in playoff history. In the following round, a loss to the Warriors that dropped James' career record to 3-5 in the Finals, James passed Jordan for No. 3 on the Finals scoring list. Should James be named to the All-NBA first team in 2017-18, he will do so for a record-setting 12th time, breaking his tie with Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant.
James graces the cover of the November GQ wearing a gilded laurel wreath and is No. 1 on the publication's list of the 50 greatest living athletes.
James, who has used his platform as an athlete to comment on social issues for years, is asked if he believes his public opposition of President Donald Trump -- whom James dubbed the "so-called president" this summer and later called a "bum" in what became his most-shared tweet -- can become for him what opposing the Vietnam War was for Muhammad Ali.
"I think Ali represented something bigger than Ali," James said. "He wanted to make a change for a future without him included. That's what Ali brought to the table. I don't know what it's like to live in every state in this country, but I know freedom. I know the opportunity that our country has given people, and to see the guy in charge now not understanding that is baffling to not only myself but to my friends and to the people that've helped grow this country.
"But Muhammad Ali's correlation to the war ... I don't think me and Donald Trump could ever get to that point."
James characterized his social consciousness as his "responsibility," saying, "I believe that I was put here for a higher cause. We have people, not only today but over the course of time, that have been in the higher positions that chose to do it and chose not to do it."
James believes Trump is shirking his responsibility by abusing his office. James didn't miss the opportunity to take another swipe at the president when explaining that while he never wants to run for POTUS himself, he sees the benefit of the position, saying, "The positive that I see from being the president ... well, not with the president we have right now, because there's no positive with him, but the positive that I've seen is being able to inspire."
James, 32, does not know how much longer he'll be inspiring folks on the basketball court, but he hinted that sticking around the league long enough to potentially play against his oldest son, 13-year-old LeBron Jr., should he make it to the NBA, might be unrealistic.
"I know I won't be able to play at this level forever, but to be washed [up] and play ... I don't know if I can play washed," James said. "but I damn sure would love to stick around if my oldest son can have an opportunity to play against me. That'd be, that'd be the icing on the cake right there."
If that does happen, he already has a welcome gift planned for his son. "I'll foul the s--- out of him!" James said. "I'd give him all six fouls. I'd foul the s--- out of Bronny, man."
Before Bronny gets to that point, James is preparing him for life as an African-American in this country.
"I have to go home and talk to my 13- and 10-year-old sons, even my 2-year-old daughter, about what it means to grow up being an African-American in America," James said. "Because no matter how great you become in life, no matter how wealthy you become, how people worship you, or what you do, if you are an African-American man or African-American woman, you will always be that."
James then referenced the incident that occurred at his home in Los Angeles prior to Game 1 of the Finals in June, when a racial epithet was spray-painted on his front gate.
"True colors will show, and it showed for me during the playoffs, where my house in Brentwood, California, one of the f---ing best neighborhoods in America, was vandalized with, you know, the N-word," James said. "And that s--- puts it all back into perspective. So do I use my energy toward that? Or do I now shed a light on how I can use this negative to turn into a positive, because so many people are looking for what I'm going to say. I had a conversation with my kids. I let them know this is what it is, this is how it's going to be.
"When it's time for y'all to fly, you'll have to understand that. When y'all go out in public and y'all start driving or y'all start moving around, be respectful to cops, as much as you can. When you get pulled over, call your mom or dad, put it on speakerphone, and put your phone underneath the seat. But be respectful the whole time."
James was asked if he felt like Cavs owner Dan Gilbert's angry letter posted to the team's website when James left Cleveland to go to Miami in 2010 had any racial element to it.
"Um, I did," James said. "I did. It was another conversation I had to have with my kids. It was unfortunate, because I believed in my heart that I had gave that city and that owner, at that point in time, everything that I had. Unfortunately, I felt like, at that point in time, as an organization, we could not bring in enough talent to help us get to what my vision was. A lot of people say they want to win, but they really don't know how hard it takes, or a lot of people don't have the vision.
"So, you know, I don't really like to go back on that letter, but it pops in my head a few times here, a few times there. I mean, it's just human nature. I think that had a lot to do with race at that time, too, and that was another opportunity for me to kind of just sit back and say, 'OK, well, how can we get better? How can we get better? How can I get better?' And if it happens again, then you're able to have an even more positive outlook on it. It wasn't the notion of I wanted to do it my way. It was the notion of I'm gonna play this game, and I'm gonna prepare myself so damn hard that when I decide to do something on the court, I want to be able to do it because I've paid my dues."
James last addressed the letter at length in the fall of 2014, after he returned to the Cavaliers for a second stint with the franchise.
"How did I forgive? I'm a man," James said then. "Men, we all make mistakes. ... As a man, if you got a problem with somebody, you sit down face to face and you talk to them eye to eye. And you hash it out and move on. So, I think a lot of things that go on in life or in sports with people kind of holding grudges is because they're afraid to actually take a step forward. It's a fine line between pride and progress, and I'm on the progress side. I'm not on the pride side."
James, who can opt out of his contract in the summer of 2018 to become a free agent, was also asked about his relationship with the city of Cleveland, to which he delivered its first championship in 52 years and was named Finals MVP in 2016.
"LeBron James owes nobody anything. Nobody," he told GQ. "When my mother told me I don't owe her anything, from that point in time, I don't owe anybody anything. But what I will give to the city of Cleveland is passion, commitment and inspiration. As long as I put that jersey on, that's what I represent. That's why I'm there -- to inspire that city. But I don't owe anybody anything."