LeBron James says he watches a lot of tape. Who does he look at?
"I watch Jordan more than anybody, for sure," James told ESPN's Chris Broussard for a story in the upcoming issue of ESPN The Magazine. "But I'll watch tapes of AI, too. I don't take anything from AI. Well, I do -- his will. They say he was 6 feet, but AI was like 5-10½. Do we even want to say 160? 170 [pounds]? Do we even want to give him that much weight? And he played like a 6-8 2-guard. He was one of the greatest finishers we've ever seen. You could never question his heart. Ever. He gave it his all. AI was like my second-favorite player growing up, after MJ."
What James loved about Jordan was the very attribute that he works to establish -- having no fear.
"MJ wasn't perfect. MJ had bad games. He had turnovers. He had games where he felt like he should've been better," James said. "But I think the greatest thing about MJ was that he never was afraid to fail. And I think that's why he succeeded so much -- because he was never afraid of what anybody ever said about him. Never afraid to miss the game-winning shot, never afraid to turn the ball over. Never afraid."
Despite two straight NBA titles and four MVPs, James is still afraid to fail.
"That's one of my biggest obstacles. I'm afraid of failure," James said in the interview. "I want to succeed so bad that I become afraid of failing."
Before winning a title in his seventh season, Jordan had to listen to critics say he was too much of a scorer and couldn't be enough of a team player to capture a championship. Before winning it all in his ninth season, James had to listen to critics who said he was too much of a team player and needed to take over games down the stretch like Jordan did.
"The so-called gurus of basketball want LeBron to be Bernard King. I'm not Bernard King," James said. "I'm not a flat-out scorer like that. That's not all that I do. I do a little bit of everything. I averaged 31 in Cleveland my third or fourth year, and that didn't get us anywhere. I led the league in scoring. People forget that."
What has become more important, however, is being a team leader. James said he recognizes that Dwyane Wade has had to make sacrifices for the sake of winning championships. And Wade has his own critics who say that he's not the player he used to be. When James senses that Wade is getting frustrated with his touches, he'll make sure to get him the ball.
"It's about letting him know who he still is," James said in a separate story in this week's ESPN The Magazine. "'You're still D-Wade and no matter what people say you can still get it done.'"
While James says that he and Wade are both alphas, Heat president Pat Riley leaves no doubt as to who is the leader of the pack.
"Dwyane realizes that he's playing with the real deal and that in the biggest moments the ball will be in LeBron's hands," Riley said. "And he realizes that doesn't make a difference. If they keep winning and make sure that's [priority] No. 1, they'll go down as one of the greatest [teams] in history."