LeBron James is about as calculated a professional athlete in American sports history. Nothing he does is accidental.
So, when he broke up a string of celebratory Instagram stories in the wake of his fourth NBA title with a binge of “The Last Dance” Wednesday evening, it’s safe to assume it was meant for our eyes.
“Back at it doing my homework,” James wrote over footage from Episodes 9 and 10 of the docuseries, which chronicled Jordan’s Bulls-career-closing back-to-back championships over the Utah Jazz.
Submitted for evidence of his intentionality: The first play James rolled on was Jordan passing off to Steve Kerr for a jumper that put the Bulls ahead 88-86 in the waning seconds of Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals.
A statement to those that opined James’ lack of killer instinct after he passed out of a throng of four defenders to a wide-open Danny Green 3-pointer with Game 5 of this year’s Finals on the line? An “F-you” to everyone that cried Jordan would never?
The steal-and-score that Jordan deployed to seal his sixth and final ring in 1998 came next. “Chillin still.”
The grander message seems to be that James, who turns 36 in December but appears still in the thick of an unprecedented run of dominance, sees his work as far from finished.
With two-to-three more solid seasons, he’ll pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s all-time scoring crown (he’s a little more than 4,000 points behind as of this writing). Finishing his career top-five all-time in assists is well within reach. A top-two MVP finish this season could foreshadow a few more All-Star and All-NBA selections to tack on the 16 he’s already received. He remains two rings (and Finals MVPs) from matching Jordan’s six — and with Anthony Davis both entering his prime and primed to re-up in LA, never say never.
But until his playing days are through, every accolade and accomplishment James collects serves also as a reminder of the ghosts he still chases. There, Jordan looms the largest. He’s the only hurdle left on James’ quest for consensus in the conversation of basketball supremacy, and LeBron knows it. Jordan is in his sights. A storybook ending of his own — a late-career three-peat? — is in his sights.
James, of course, swears such aspirations don’t cross his mind.
“I’m going to let you guys talk about it,” he said after the Finals when asked about comparisons to Jordan.
But words are one thing. Action is another. James says he wants observers to bear the brunt of contextualizing his greatness. He’s just trying to coax us in the right direction.