LeBron James is nearing the NBA's all-time scoring record, as he stands 36 points away from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's long-standing record.
Certainly, it's one of James' more impressive soon-to-be accomplishments. But, to Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who's in town for Monday's Bulls-Spurs game, James' eventual surpassing of Abdul-Jabbar is not his most impressive feat.
"I would say his ability to carry on in a classy manner in the midst of all the attention that he gets and has gotten since he was a kid. I find it amazing," Popovich said on Monday.
James and Popovich have a long-standing competitive relationship since James entered the league in 2003. They've faced off 41 times, of which James owns the most wins between the two (22).
In 2017, James called Popovich the "greatest coach of all time." The two have only joined forces for national responsibilities, teaming up during the 2004 Olympics.
Their relationship is built on mutual respect for the other's achievements, as they've created a historic player versus coach-battle over the years. To that, Popovich tipped his cap to James on Monday, sticking up for a player he's known for 20+ years.
"He'll be the first one to tell you: The Miami departure thing, why he went, that didn't go great," Popovich said. "He would probably would've liked to have done that a little differently---verbally, or the things he said.
"But give me a break. That's a whole career. And there's one small irrelevant snafu like that?"
Certainly, as Popovich alluded to, The Decision for James to sign with the Miami Heat in free agency before the 2010 season, and leave his hometown team the Cleveland Cavaliers, turned his image into an antagonist.
Yet, he's never held that title with bitterness or a sour taste. James has always been unapologetically himself, on and off the court.
To that, Popovich commends James for upholding the highest expectations a player in the NBA can receive. He serves as a near-perfect role model, someone who millions around the world can aspire to be, while having the spotlight directed straight at them.
"He's been an exemplary player, an icon of the league," Popovich said. "Off the court, he has been wonderful. He doesn't get into trouble so to speak. He's weathered all the questions that have been asked, especially at the beginning."
James has the highest upstanding values any figure of his acclaim could maintain. But, as Popovich said, James doesn't take his fame and fortune for granted, holding up high values in his personal, off-court life.
He represents a family he started with his high school sweetheart, Savannah, with two sons – Bronny and Bryce – and one daughter – Zhuri. James is a family man by heart, as shown by his long, ongoing wish to play with his oldest son, Bronny, in the NBA.
James serves as an indirect spokesperson of the NBA, expressing his opinions on nationwide politics, social justice issues and NBA matters. In 2015, he was elected the first Vice President of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA).
His activism is arguably the most admirable point on his résumé. His largest philanthropic achievement is opening the "I Promise School," in 2018 in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, in adjunction with the LeBron James Family Foundation to help struggling kids stay in school.
Despite all his achievements, on and off the floor, he still earns an inordinate amount of skepticism, based on casual fandom who wish to point at the easiest target the NBA has to offer – LeBron James.
Simpletons often criticize his complaints to referees, on-court overreactions, and insistence on addressing political issues (editor's note: remember "shut up and dribble"). The same take to NBA Twitter by referring to him as any negative word using the prefix "Le-" (such as "LeBum").
These are some of the norms for one of the game's greatest players. In fact, they're often found in Chicago, amid a city of people who would prefer Michael Jordan over James in the classic "GOAT" debate.
Every superhero has a villain, I suppose. To Chicago, James identifies as one.
But, to Popovich's point, his ability to handle the attention with "class and aplomb" is an outstanding achievement on its own, far past the degree of his 19 All-Star nods, four league MVPs and four NBA championships.
LeBron James is LeBron James. And for that, he'll always receive some part of the cold shoulder.
"If he passed it, he should've shot it. If he shot it, he should've passed it," Popovich said. "All of a sudden, everybody is as smart as they are about the Chinese balloon up in the sky.
"Everybody has an answer for what should happen, like you're all intelligence majors or something like that. And he weathered it. And he's done it consistently. His consistency has been amazing over all this time. Just a great individual in every way."