Michael Jordan no longer sits atop the NBA’s all-time postseason scoring list, replaced by a man who grew up in Ohio idolizing the Bulls star “almost like a God.”
LeBron James scored 35 points during a 135-102 road victory over Boston in Game 5 of the East finals, sending Cleveland to the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year. In so doing, James increased his career postseason scoring total to 5,995 points, eclipsing Jordan’s record tally of 5,987 points.
“I wear the number  because of Mike,” James said after Game 5. “I think I fell in love with the game because of Mike, seeing what he was able to accomplish. When you’re growing up and seeing Michael Jordan, it’s almost like a God. I didn’t ever believe I could be Mike. I started to focus myself on other players and other people around my neighborhood. I never thought I could get to a point where Mike was. I think that helped shape my game.”
Although James needed more games than Jordan to overtake him on the postseason scoring list, he still did it at a younger age. James, 32, has averaged 28.3 PPG over 212 postseason games. By contrast, Jordan averaged 33.4 PPG over 179 postseason games, competing in his last playoff game at the age of 35.
James told reporters that he patterned himself after Jordan both on and off the court.
“I did pretty much everything that MJ did when I was a kid,” he said. “I shot fadeaways before I should have. I wore a leg sleeve on my leg 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. … I did everything Mike did. I even wore a wristband on my forearm.”
James’ postseason scoring record is a tribute to his consistency: He made his playoff debut at age 21 in 2006 and has never failed to advance to at least the second round in the 11 years since. The three-time champion and three-time Finals MVP will compete in his seventh straight Finals next week when Cleveland faces Golden State.
Meanwhile, Jordan launched his postseason more gradually, making his playoff debut at age 22 and failing to reach the second round until he was 25. After winning three titles, Jordan then missed the 1994 playoffs due to his first retirement before retiring a second time in 1998 following his sixth and final championship. Jordan eventually returned to the court with the Wizards in 2001, following three seasons away from the court, but he failed to reach the playoffs in his final two seasons with Washington. His 33.4 PPG in the playoffs remains a record, easily surpassing the likes of Allen Iverson, Jerry West, Kevin Durant and James on the all-time leaderboard.
“I did it being me,” James said of his new record. “I don’t have to score the ball to make an impact in a basketball game. That was my mindset when I started playing the game. If I’m not scoring the ball, how can I still make an impact on the game. It’s carried me all the way to this point now and it’s going to carry me for the rest of my career. Scoring is not number one on my agenda.”
•Jordan: 33.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 5.7 APG, 2.1 SPG, 28.6 PER
•James: 28.3 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 6.8 APG, 1.8 SPG, 27.8 PER
It’s worth noting that James is closing in on Jordan when it comes to the regular season scoring list as well: Jordan currently ranks fourth with 32,292 points while James is seventh with 28,787 points. At his recent rate of scoring and availability, James should be able to make up the 3,505-point gap by the end of the 2018-2019 season. Again, Jordan’s 30.1 PPG scoring average exceeds James’ 27.1 PPG average during the regular season.