Joe DiMaggio is in our midst.
No one snickered, no one laughed when the Cavaliers’ Richard Jefferson made the comparison.
Because the level of consistent excellence, the longevity, the durability that LeBron James displayed in passing Michael Jordan to become the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer Thursday night seems like a package that is rarely put together.
So when Jefferson said after the Cavs captured the Eastern Conference championship that James’ playoff scoring record is “unbreakable,” no one thought it was all that farfetched.
When the Cavs take on the Golden State Warriors on June 1, it will be James’ seventh consecutive NBA final appearance and his eighth overall. His teams have made the playoffs 12 times in his 14 seasons.
At age 32, with 5,995 post-season points, he shows no signs of slowing down. At a pace like this — scoring 30 or more points in 11 of the Cavs’ 13 playoff games and at least 35 points in seven — James could make the New Orleans Pelicans or Detroit Pistons a title contender.
There is certainly no one close to him on the playoff scoring list who can catch him. Among the active players near the top, Tony Parker (4,012) stands ninth, Dwyane Wade (3,871) 11th, Dirk Nowitzki (3,663) 15th and Kevin Durant (2,872) 28th.
The pursuer will have to be a young player with similar God-given gifts and a strong mind. He can’t be a one-man show because his team won’t get far enough in the playoffs to allow him to pile up the points.
“His record when he’s done will be unbreakable,” Jefferson said. “Like the Joe DiMaggio hit streak and . . . Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100, there are certain records that will be unbreakable. Whoever tries to get to that is going to have to play in 10 NBA finals and average 30 points a game to get there.
“What he’s doing right now is obviously on a level that has never been seen before. To pass Michael Jordan when you’re still in the prime of your career, one of the greats of all-time … If he adds another 1,000 points, who’s going to be able to come in and go to 10 NBA finals in this modern day? . . . It’s impossible. That record, I won’t live to see that record be broken.”
Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks has stood since March 2, 1962.
DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak came in 1941, helping propel the New York Yankees to a 101-53 record and a World Series triumph over the Brooklyn Dodgers. DiMaggio was surrounded by Hall of Famers —Bill Dickey, Lefty Gomez, Phil Rizzuto, Red Ruffing and manager Joe McCarthy.
James has wanted to “be like Mike” since he first started playing basketball. Back then he was tall and scrawny, the inkling of what he would become drawn more from his skills and determination to develop an all-around game than his body.
“I did pretty much everything that M.J. did when I was a kid,” James said. “I shot fadeaways before I should have. I wore a leg sleeve and folded it down so you saw the red part. I wore black and red shoes with white socks. I wore short shorts so you could see my undershorts underneath. I didn’t go bald like Mike, but I’m getting there.”
James has three NBA titles to Jordan’s six, which might be the only statistic holding James back in consideration as the greatest of all time. But barring injury, more championships seem likely, even if the Cavs are big underdogs to Golden State this year.