Whatever your career of choice, there’s a palpable pull to the possibility of learning from the best in the business.
Sports are a bit different. Athletes, by virtue of their shared craft's inherent competition, will rarely admit to wanting or needing mentoring—unless the mentor in question is already retired, of course (see: Olajuwon, Hakeem).
Well, LeBron James isn’t retired, but that’s not dissuading Paul George of the Indiana Pacers from trying to siphon as much knowledge as possible from the game’s reigning King, according to Basketball Insiders’ Jessica Camerato.
It would be great to be able to pick his brain, pick his mind and just talk about the game because I think he’s a player that can help me get to the next level and continue to keep going to the next level. I wish some day we have that relationship where he is someone I can talk to—not during the season because I’m too competitive during the season—but maybe in the summertime.
Two possibilities here: One is that George is being utterly genuine in his overtures and would legitimately love working with LeBron.
Update: Thursday, March 6 at 7:10 p.m. ET:
LeBron is "absolutely" open to mentoring George in the offseason, according to Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick:
We'll see if George joins James' sessions with Kevin Durant or if they'll be separate from one another.
--End of update--
The other is what we’ll call the “Michael Jordan approach," which essentially entails luring your rivals into a friendship for the purposes of softening their competitive edge.
One such incident (purportedly) took place during the 1993 Finals, when MJ and the Bulls squared off against Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns. As legend has it, Jordan buttered Barkley up with some golf and—the story goes—a $20,000 diamond earring.
Barkley never played the same for the rest of the series, and the Bulls won in six games.
We’re pretty certain George doesn't possess quite the mean gene of His Airness, but if we find out five years from now that PG bested LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals after the two stayed out until 5 a.m. the night before, we’ll know why.
But according to a story written by Jeanne Marie Laskas in this month’s GQ magazine, the bond, while not necessarily a brotherhood, has been beyond cordial ever since last year’s Eastern Conference Finals:
How about Pacers swingman Paul George? That hand slap in Game 2 last year? The two were going at it, genius versus genius, George beating James with a hard dunk, James answering with a deep three-pointer. After the horn, James followed George, reached for him, said, ‘I got you back, young fella,’ and so they slapped hands, enemies fraternizing. Ever since the slap, George is having the season of his life, and now people act like James put magic Jesus oil on him.
So there you have it: Just a simple case of two 21st-century superstars who apparently like and respect one another enough to put aside their competitive differences and possibly collaborate on their shared work.
Somewhere, Michael Jordan is shaking his head.