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LeBron James going even further beyond compare

Straight comparisons Michael Jordan with six NBA titles don’t take inaccount dominance LeBrJames (above) has established sports today.  | Kamil

Straight comparisons to Michael Jordan, with six NBA titles, don’t take into account the dominance LeBron James (above) has established in sports today.  | Kamil Krzaczynski/AP

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Updated: January 9, 2014 6:28AM

LeBron James extended a message of sympathy to Derrick Rose at the United Center on Thursday night, wishing his fellow hoops marvel a speedy and complete recovery from his second knee operation in 18 months. An unrelated follow-up question then gave James pause: Any thoughts on the passing of Nelson Mandela?

The query called for a rudimentary knowledge of world affairs and was right in the wheelhouse for, say, teammate Shane Battier, a well-spoken Duke grad, or perhaps Dwyane Wade, a three-year Marquette scholar. James, raised from the womb to be an athlete, never spent a day in college and was 9 when Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in a transformative series of events that freed South Africa from apartheid and changed the world.

James nevertheless offered a wise, thoughtful answer, explaining that the true greatness of a great man like Nelson Mandela is a legacy that survives him.

No surprise. Save for that horribly misguided ‘‘Decision,’’ that notoriously bad exercise in self-reverence that heralded his move from Cleveland to Miami in 2010, James has withstood public scrutiny quite well, considering it has engulfed him unceasingly since he was a teenager. No arrests, no DUIs, no battered wives or girlfriends, no outlandish 4 a.m. shenanigans. By all accounts a responsible citizen, a good teammate and a transcendently great player, the best in the world.

With Kobe Bryant injured, idle and aging, no one else can make that claim. Kevin Durant is a marvelous scorer, but the total package has not yet arrived.

James is a hard guy not to like, or at least respect. But an hour later, as one of his 10 missed shots clanked off the rim during the Heat’s uninspired 20-point loss to the Bulls, a lubricated fan in the arena’s lower bowl let James have it.

‘‘Hey, LeBron,’’ a distinctly Chicago voice bellowed, ‘‘you’re no Jordan!’’

No, he’s not. MJ, with his six NBA titles, his irrepressible will to win and his gift for finding new and innovative ways to do so, remains the gold standard for basketball as it’s currently played.

But there is increasing validity to a comparison of the two.

James is 28, the same age Jordan was when he won the first of those six titles. LeBron has won two already, with two additional trips to the Finals.

Statistically, it’s pretty much a push: Jordan scored more (and shot more), but James has an edge in rebounding and assists. They are/were amazingly good defenders, on the ball or in help situations, but it’s worth noting that James, at 6-8 and 250 pounds, has the size, strength and agility to guard all five positions. Think Isiah Thomas’ skills and Karl Malone’s body.

And he keeps getting better. James’ 492 career shooting percentage is nearly identical to Jordan’s .497. But it’s .595 this season, third best in the NBA, and it includes at least as many mid-range jumpers as dunks or layups. MJ never shot better than .539 in a season. Wilt Chamberlain surpassed .595 only three times in 15 years, and his buckets were almost exclusively dunks or put-backs.

Rather than measure James against Jordan, let’s consider him in the context of other sports and say he’s the most dominant athlete in the world, if not the best.

Who’s the best player in pro football? Peyton Manning? Calvin Johnson? Adrian Peterson? You probably can mention a half-dozen guys, which means no one individual comes close to dominating the NFL the way LeBron dominates the NBA.

Baseball, too. Miguel Cabrera is a two-time American League MVP and an undeniably great hitter, but hitting is all he does, really. National League MVP Andrew McCutchen has a more varied skill set, but are his skills on the level of LeBron’s? Nope. Mike Trout, we hear, is the most dynamic package of talent to reach the bigs since Mickey Mantle, but can we consider him dominant before he appears in a postseason game?

I love the way Patrick Kane plays hockey, but he’s hardly LeBron-esque. Wayne Gretzky was, and maybe Mario Lemieux, but nobody since.

Tiger Woods was the favorite to win every time he teed it up for roughly a decade, but that’s no longer the case. And he can stack his Player of the Year trophies like cordwood, but he won’t be truly dominant in golf unless he starts winning majors again.

I’ll give you track phenom Usain Bolt, but all he has to do is run fast. There’s a lot more to the James game, and he keeps adding to it.

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