Speaking with ESPN's Chris Broussard for a story in the upcoming issue of ESPN The Magazine, LeBron told Broussard that Jordan and Iverson were his two favorite players growing up:
I watch Jordan more than anybody, for sure. But I'll watch tapes of AI [Allen Iverson] too. I don't take anything from AI. Well, I do -- his will. They say he was six 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.
LeBron's obsession with Jordan isn't a secret. On numerous occasions, he's made it clear His Airness is someone he respected. Back in August, he also named Jordan as one of the three best players in NBA history to Fox Sports' Bill Reiter.
His admiration for Iverson isn't as storied, though it makes sense. LeBron is known as one of the league's hardest workers, so it's only fitting he appreciates the talent and effort of a former underdog.
Still, even after two championships, four MVPs and an image overhaul, it's all about Jordan for the Miami Heat's superstar.
When asked previously about what keeps him motivated after all these years and his many accolades, LeBron reiterated his desire to become the greatest of all time, per Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skolnick.
LeBron: "I want to be the greatest of all time. And that's my motivation.... It's not simple, but for me it is. That's my mindframe."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) September 30, 2013
That means surpassing Jordan, a player LeBron grew up idolizing and continues to treasure now.
"[T]he greatest thing about MJ was that he never was afraid to fail," he told Broussard. "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."
A decade into his career and already the unchallenged best player in the league, fear is something LeBron concedes he has yet to master.
Will LeBron James go down as the greatest NBA player ever?
"That's one of my biggest obstacles. I'm afraid of failure," LeBron said in the interview. "I want to succeed so bad that I become afraid of failing."
Does this mean LeBron lacks the same killer instinct as Jordan or Kobe Bryant? Broussard asked and LeBron emphasized that there are different ways of "killing:"
Ahh. I'll just put it this way, man. There are different ways to hunt. I watch the Discovery Channel all the time, and you look at all these animals in the wild. And they all hunt a different way to feed their families. They all kill a different way. Lions do it strategically -- two females will lead, and then everybody else will come in. Hyenas will just go for it. There are different ways to kill, and I don't think people understand that. Everybody wants everybody to kill the same way. Everybody wants everybody to kill like MJ or kill like Kobe. Magic didn't kill the way they killed. Does that mean he didn't have a killer instinct? Kareem didn't either. But does that mean Kareem didn't have a killer instinct? The same with Bird. That doesn't mean you don't have a killer instinct. Tim Duncan don't kill like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, but I've played against Tim Duncan twice in the Finals and I know for sure he's got a killer instinct. So there are different ways to kill. MJ had a killer instinct for sure. But if people really think that MJ didn't talk to nobody and didn't smile on the court, they're crazy. They're crazy. I've seen him. I was watching a clip the other day of him blocking Charles Barkley, and they're laughing about the play -- on the floor. Right now, if I block Kevin Durant on the floor, or I block Carmelo Anthony and we laugh about it? Ahh, I'm going to get killed [laughing]. I'm telling you. But there are different ways of killing.
Copping to fear and a different outlook on the game doesn't make LeBron weak. His angst isn't cowardice, nor is it necessarily a bad thing. Fear of failing drove LeBron to Miami, where he has reinvented himself, both as a winner and person. Fear has also kept him humble and allowed him to put things ahead in perspective.
“I want to be the greatest player of all time,” LeBron said previously, per ESPN's Tom Haberstroh. “It’s that simple. But I’m far from that.”
Though LeBron himself won't admit it, perhaps for fear of jinxing his current legacy or offending those that have come before him, all he's done suggests he's closer than he thinks.