MIAMI — LeBron James' final jump shot of the NBA Finals for the Miami Heat left him thinking about Michael Jordan.
James told Sports Illustrated for a story released Wednesday that he spent time during this year's title series watching Jordan's iconic, title-clinching shot for the Chicago Bulls against the Utah Jazz in the 1998 finals. So when James made a jumper with 27.9 seconds left in Game 7 of this year's title series against the San Antonio Spurs, his thoughts turned to that Jordan shot.
"I know it wasn't the magnitude of MJ hitting that shot in '98, but I definitely thought about him," James said. "It was an MJ moment."
He then paused for a moment, before adding, "It was an LJ moment."
James is on this week's SI cover, the 20th time he has appeared on the front of the magazine. The image is of him gazing down at the Larry O'Brien Trophy, with his reflection visible off the top of the gold ball.
James is often compared to Jordan, and the debate has raged for years about which NBA superstar is better. James has said many times that it's humbling to be in that conversation, and tweeted back in February, "I'm not MJ, I'm LJ."
He watched Game 6 of the 1998 Bulls-Jazz series in his hotel room in San Antonio during this year's finals, up to the moment where Jordan posed after making the shot that sealed Chicago's sixth championship.
James' jumper against the Spurs came with no pose, but it was enormous for the Heat. It gave Miami a 92-88 lead, and the Spurs didn't score again.
James told the magazine that when he woke up the day after Game 7, he began to realize how much of a physical toll the series took on him, and how many injuries he was playing through.
"I felt all these nicks and bruises and little injuries I didn't know I had," James said. "My back, my hamstring, my ankle, both my elbows, they were all aching. I guess I just didn't pay attention to them."
He also discussed the promises that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had the team make to one another, in the form of contracts that would remind everyone what they were tasked with during the postseason. James took his pact extremely seriously, using his formal signature — not his scrawled autograph — to seal his deal.
"I wrote out LeBron James like it was a check," James said.
The story also gives some detail about Miami's 27-game winning streak, which began on Super Bowl Sunday, a day the Heat spent in Toronto for a day game against the Raptors. The plane Miami uses for its charter flights is not equipped with live television, and the original travel plan for that day had the team scheduled to be in the air during the Baltimore-San Francisco game for the NFL title.
James wanted the team to remain in Toronto for a few hours to see the Super Bowl, and the team arranged to make that happen. It turned out to be one of the most important team-bonding moments of the season, Heat forward Shane Battier said.
"We were always close, but that took it to another level," Battier said. "I believe that night was the impetus for the streak."
James also addresses his future in the SI piece. He told reporters Tuesday that he will not start really thinking about the chance to be a free agent in the summer of 2014 until next season ends, and reiterated that stance with the magazine.
"I'm a totally different person on the court, off the court and everywhere in between," James said. "I know it will come up, but it's not going to come up until it's at that point."