The moment LeBron James met Michael Jordan: ‘It was like hearing God speak.’

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Long before Lakers star James faced off with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA playoffs, he was in awe of Michael Jordan during his first meeting. (Godofredo A. Vasquez / The Associated Press)

LeBron James was 16 when he first met Michael Jordan, an NBA legend he would spend his basketball career pursuing. The following excerpt from the book “LeBron” describes their first conversation in 2001.

In the summer, word leaked Michael Jordan, at the age of thirty-eight, may come out of retirement for the second time. in the midst of rumours, lebron [James] and capricious [Carter] Greg heads back to Chicago to spend a week with Ryan while working at Hoops. When he arrived, he faced more than a dozen top NBA players – Anfernie “Penny” Hardaway, Ron Artest, Paul Pierce, Jerry Stackhouse, Antoine Walker, Tim Hardaway, Michael Finley, Juwan Howard, Charles Oakley and others. It was a collection of some of the league's biggest and toughest enforcers, as well as some of the most talented offensive players in the game. Each day he would come in, spend an hour lifting with a of trainers, and then he would play a pickup game.

Jordan wasn't around. But his personal trainer, Tim Grover, ran the place. And for LeBron, it was an opportunity to in Jordan's inner sanctum, watching some of the world's greatest players train. It was immediately clear that there were no boys in this world. These friends were men. Drenched in sweat and their bodies sculpted with muscle, they weren't playing—they were running and giggling and chattering in their own unique language.

NBA players didn't pay much attention to LeBron. But in the middle of the week, Grover arranged to get LeBron to one of the pickup games. LeBron laces up his sneakers. Like an entrepreneur, he stepped onto the floor and immediately felt it was different from whatever floor he was on. Dimensions were the same. But the players were so large that it was hard to see the lanes leading to the basket. Everyone's arms were so long that the passing lanes were very narrow. It was as if the court had shrunk.

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LeBron ended up guarding Jerry Stackhouse, who made a point of taking him to the hole, demonstrating that LeBron was unwilling to defend at this stage. And Antoine Walker talked nonsense the entire time, giving LeBron a taste of what he was about to do in the NBA.

But LeBron kept his balance. Although he had trouble guarding people on defense, he was able to get up and down with them, making several impressive passes and hitting some shots. Getting a pass from an NBA great and turning it into a bucket was a tremendous confidence booster.

For Maverick, it was impossible not to swell with pride as he watched LeBron travel the world he would soon occupy as a full-time resident. He was hanging out with millionaires who drove luxury cars, married beautiful women, and were raising families. He was a professional. And watching LeBron play with him made it easy to envision a future for LeBron.

At the end of each day, after all the players had left, LeBron and Maverick stayed behind to help Ryan and Grover clean up. One afternoon toward the end of the week, they were on their way out the door when they saw a Ferrari pull up the road. As soon as it stopped, they saw who was driving – Michael Jordan.

“Ho-li s-,” said Maverick.

LeBron froze, staring at Jordan as he got out of the car and walked toward them. LeBron had never seen his idol up close. It seemed as if he was flying.

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Jordan had a lot on his mind at the time. After being away from the game for three years, he was preparing to . He realized that at his age, he might not be able to play at the level that people had become accustomed to taking away from the game. One of the lessons he learned during his career was that it was impossible to live up to other people's expectations; All he could do was set his own expectations and try to meet them. Another thing he learned was the power of silence. He had not yet told anyone about his comeback plans. He was keeping everything close to the vest.

Approaching the gym, Jordan saw LeBron, said hello, and invited him and Maverick back inside.

He followed Jordan to the weight room. Grover and Ryan join them. There was no one around.

LeBron James surpassed Michael Jordan on the NBA's all-time scoring list against the Denver Nuggets on March 6, 2019.
LeBron James surpassed Michael Jordan on the NBA's all-time scoring list against the Denver Nuggets on March 6, 2019. (Chris Szagola; Beth A. Keizer/Associated Press)

Jordan smiled at LeBron, the kid he was saying would be his successor.

LeBron met her gaze.

Surrounded by weight , Jordan kept it while talking in general terms about the NBA and what it means to be a professional.

LeBron listened and nodded. The experience was too real to process.

The conversation lasted for about fifteen minutes. And Jordan didn't offer any advice. But he gave LeBron something more valuable than words: his cell phone number.

Maverick is stunned.

LeBron didn't know what to say. Jordan's shoes were on his . And now Jordan's number was in his pocket. At the age of sixteen, LeBron joined a very select club of people in the world who had direct access to Jordan.

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It was late when LeBron and Maverick left Chicago for the five-plus-hour drive back to Akron. In the morning, LeBron was to be at St. V's on his first day of school. There won't be much time to sleep. But with Maverick at the wheel and LeBron playing DJ from the passenger seat, music pulsated from the stereo as they cruised down I-90 past South Bend and crossed into Ohio. In between songs, they couldn't get over the fact that they met Jordan.

Maverick said, “It was like hearing God speak.”

LeBron was flying high. The last few months felt like he had lived a lifetime. He didn't want the summer to end. He just wanted to keep growing.

In his journal, he quickly summarized his experience in Chicago:

I didn't get a chance to play with Mike, but I got to do some runs with a lot of other NBA guys, and I talked to Jordan a little bit. He didn't really give me any advice, he just told me to keep my head straight. We all went out to dinner at his restaurant – steak and mashed potatoes were tight.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times,