LOS ANGELES — From the first day LeBron James picked up a basketball, he wanted to be like Mike.

James and his closest friends idolized Michael Jordan while growing up in Akron, Ohio. As James grew into a prospect capable of jumping from high school to the NBA, he studied, imitated and drew inspiration from Jordan’s tongue-wagging dunks, that fadeaway jumper, his competitive fire – even the details of the way Jordan wore his sneakers and shorts.

James proudly put No. 23 on his back as soon as he could get it as a high school sophomore.

“He was everything,” James said.

Jordan also has admired James’ game for years.

“I want to congratulate LeBron on achieving another great milestone during his amazing career,” Jordan said in a statement.

When James surpassed Jordan’s career points total Wednesday night, he did it in a pair of Nikes with “Thank You M.J.” written neatly on the side. That tribute doesn’t begin to encompass what Jordan’s radiance meant to a youngster who dreamed of finding a better life through basketball.

“M.J. was an inspiration,” James said. “M.J. was the lightning in a bottle for me because I wanted to be like him.”

James has grown into a 34-year-old with three championship rings and a 16-year NBA career. Yet he’s still in awe of Jordan.

James moved past Jordan into fourth place on the NBA’s career scoring list with a driving three-point play in the second quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 115-99 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

James said he missed most of the tribute video aired at Staples Center during the timeout after his milestone points. That’s because he was crying into a towel on the Lakers’ bench.

James couldn’t afford Air Jordans but remembers walking through the mall and marveling at the pristine red-and-black shoes. They inspired him to dream of having his own shoes.

“You guys have no idea what M.J. did for me and my friends growing up,” James said. “Just in a sense of, some days where you just don’t feel like you’re going to make it to the next day where I grew up, because of everything that’s going on. Like I wrote on my shoes today, I thank M.J. more than he would ever know. I’ve got to carry it on to the next kid. Hopefully I can inspire the next kid.”

Several of the Nuggets spoke of idolizing James while they grew up, and his own Lakers locker room includes teammates playing alongside one of their boyhood heroes.

“I never saw Michael live,” said Moritz Wagner, the Lakers’ 21-year-old rookie center. “(James) is the G.O.A.T. of our generation.”

PELICANS: Guard Jrue Holiday was diagnosed with a lower abdominal strain that’s expected to sideline him at least a week.


BUCKS 117, PACERS 98: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton combined for 56 points to lead Milwaukee at home.

Antetokounmpo finished with 29 points and Middleton had 27 for the Bucks, who hold the top spot in the Eastern Conference.