LeBron James was stunned when he met Michael Jordan.
As a sophomore in high school, James saw the six-time champion using a bench press in Chicago in 2001. He felt as though he were having a religious experience.
"I literally couldn't believe it was him," James said in an interview with Uninterrupted. "I couldn't believe it. The dude looked like Jesus Christ to me. He was Black Jesus to me. Nobody could say to me anything different."
Jordan was his idol. His brain couldn't compute that they were in the same room.
"I was like oh my f***ing God," James said. "I didn't think he was real, man. You don't understand. I didn't think Michael Jordan was real. I only thought he lived in the TV, either in games or commercials or "Come Fly With Me" on cassette tapes. I didn't think he was real. When I saw him I was like, 'If the man above would've took me that day, I would've lived a hell of a life.' I swear to God, after seeing Mike."
James, who grew up in poverty in Akron, Ohio, said Jordan deeply influenced his life.
"Michael Jordan was kind of like that God," James said. "He was that angel sent from heaven. I kind of used him to help me get through some of the darkest days that I had. People say, 'Well, you were only nine years old.' But there's a lot of dark days when you grew up the way that I grew up and you're part of a single parent household."
When things were rough, Jordan was his distraction. When he had to move 12 times between the ages of five and eight, Jordan reminded him that another life was possible. When there wasn't enough food on the table, Jordan gave him hope.
"Every other day, if I got an opportunity on WGN to watch Mike, it gave me another boost of life," James said. "It made me feel like I could make it out of this situation."
That's why Jordan's surprise retirement in 1993 following his father's death cut James so deeply.
"I felt like maybe I should give up, too," James said.
The stranger had become a family member to him.
"When you're a nine-year-old kid and you need inspiration from someone, they become your father, which I needed," James said. "They become your brother. They become your teammate. They become your pastor. They become your superhero. It's like Batman and Michael Jordan for me when I was growing up."
When Jordan stepped away from the game, James was lost. He didn't know where to turn. Who to aspire to be.
"Without Mike, what do I do now?" James said. "Who is going to be my inspiration? And that brought tears to my eyes."
Jordan, of course, returned to the NBA for the 1994-95 season, winning another three-straight championships in 1996-98.
The impression that Jordan left on James as a child was so strong that, to this day, he counts meeting him 19 years ago as one of the most formative experiences of his life.
"There's two people that I've met in my life that's changed my life," James said, before correcting himself and saying there's actually three people, including Jay-Z. "...Meeting my wife that I've been with since 2002, and when I met Michael Jordan in 2001."
James, a three-time NBA champion and four-time MVP, was glued to his television the last five Sundays watching the documentary series "The Last Dance," which followed Jordan and the Bulls through all of their setbacks and triumphs.
It made him miss basketball so much that he tried to juke his dog.
"She comes close to me, I have her a little going right hard, slap her on the butt, let her fly by," James said. "...She looking at me like, 'What are you doing, dad?'"
James, who is known for having one of the highest IQs in the game and being a basketball historian, said he knew about many of the dynamics on the Bulls before watching the 10-part documentary series, including Scottie Pippen's issues with his contract, Jordan's struggles with the front office and Dennis Rodman's proclivity to miss practices.
But one thing surprised him.
"Did I know [Rodman] missed a Finals practice to go wrestle?" James asked, laughing.
James acknowledged he would've been upset if one of his teammates tried to pull such as stunt.
"As a leader of the team, I would be like, 'Dennis, what the f*** are you doing? We need your presence. We need you here,'" James said.
James, however, added that his anger would've quickly abated.
"Then he goes out and gets you 20 rebounds in a Finals game?" James said. "You like, 'Maybe this is working for Dennis. Let Dennis do what he do.'"
James added that it was a deep shame that the Bulls were broken up after winning the 1998 championship, their sixth title over eight seasons.
"You definitely would've loved to see him go for seven," James said. "When we watched him in the '98 Finals, he was no where near washed....He's no where near to being on his last leg. This motherf***er can still go. He's still the best player in the world."
Even though Jordan was criticized for being too hard on his teammates, James said he respects his leadership style. He identifies with being entirely consumed by winning -- and being willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen.
"Sometimes I wish I was a golfer," James said. "Sometimes I wish I was a tennis player, where I challenge myself. Because I know at the end of the day, I'm going to put the work in. I'll go 24, 48, 96 hours without sleeping because I'm training my body, my mind, my soul on winning, winning, winning at all costs."
James added that he would've loved to play alongside Jordan.
"Absolutely, I could care less about how great Mike was, and how transcendent he was as a personality, as a person," he said. "But just his drive."
James thinks their games would've been complimentary.
"My best assets work perfectly with Mike," James said. "Mike is an assassin. Mike is an assassin when it comes to playing the game of basketball, scoring the way he scored the ball. My ability to pass, my ability to read the game -- plays and plays and plays in advance. And then just taking a challenge. I love when a teammate comes to me and challenges me and tells me, 'All right, come on now."
James intimated that he wouldn't have minded Jordan pushing him. He pointed to the fact that he's enjoyed that type of motivation throughout his career.
"When I was in Miami, D[wyane] Wade used be like, 'All right, six, lets go,'" James said. "T[yronn] Lue used to challenge me a lot when I was in Cleveland. He'd be like, 'All right bro, what are you waiting on?' I just see that in Mike and I feel like our games was a perfect correlation to be able to be successful."
James then said another sentence that will forever dance in the minds of every basketball fan.
The possibility is just too exciting to imagine.
And too scintillating to forget.
"I just think it would've been a whole 'nother level with me being that point forward alongside of him during those Chicago runs," he said.