What happened when King James met His Airness

One day last summer, LeBron James proved his worthiness on the court with Michael Jordan.

Updated: December 23, 2002, 1:39 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Editor's note: As part of "The Stein Line" every Monday, ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein takes you around the league for the latest news in "Coast to Coast."

It's been a while, right? Time, surely, for a fresh LeBron James anecdote.

Something besides the bit about Allen Iverson going to watch LBJ play Sunday night? OK, fine. Try this instead.

LeBron James
LeBron James stands as a man among boys in high school, but a man among NBA men, too.
Seems James (surprise!) found his way into a few of Michael Jordan's Chicago pickup games over the summer, despite breaking his left (non-shooting) wrist in early June. The kid apparently fared decently, too.

MJ, the story goes, saw enough to bequeath the privilege of giving James a head-to-head Jordan Rules initiation. "He'd didn't want to deal with all that youth," one witness said. "He told Jerry Stackhouse to go after him."

Significance of the story? No, it doesn't mean James will be making an instant impact next season. He's a swingman and, like Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady, still figures to need at least three seasons before scoring freely. And, yes, it was just a pickup game. The story, though, should hush naysayers who see James on TV against overmatched high schoolers and then ask what dominating them proves.

James has played against NBA men before, with one good wrist, and survived just fine. That's all.

Sloan, too, lives for the now in Utah
Karl Malone and John Stockton get the retirement questions on a daily basis. Which pleases their coach, because Jerry Sloan doesn't relish answering them any more than Mail or Stock do.

"I'm kind of like they are," said Sloan, who, in his 15th season with the Jazz, has the longest active coaching tenure in the league. "I take it day by day."

That includes the days, as seen last week, when Malone uncoiled one of his trademark rants about being under appreciated and coach and player clashed in private about Sloan's repeated mentions of Utah's sloppy play. "A pretty good (clash)," Malone joked afterward.

Yet Sloan predictably dismissed the severity of the discord, then sidestepped an inquiry about his future. Just like Mail and Stock, who aren't sure if they'll be back next season, Sloan says he hasn't given much consideration to the thought of coaching the Jazz after the icons actually do leave -- or the idea of going out with them.

"They've been good enough to me here ... Mr. Miller (Jazz owner Larry Miller) has told me he would let me decide that," Sloan said. "I think I'm still fairly competitive and I haven't lost that. But I'm not going to take advantage of any situation.

"A year or so ago I had some health problems, and my wife had some health problems, so I'm (thinking about) what's best for us now. I've always taken things day by day, but more so now than I did before."

Yao Ming
Yao Ming has become the center of the Rockets' offense.
Rockets changing (and winning) on the fly
Intermittent turbulence in Houston is understandable. The Rockets have grappled with inconsistency while retooling their offense midstream to capitalize fully on the emerging Yao Ming.

One opposing coach whose club faced the Rockets recently came away "shocked" by how rarely Houston is going to its well-worn isolation sets for Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley. The Rockets are increasingly funneling the ball through Yao instead to take advantage of his passing ability.

"He moves like a 6-10 guy in the post," the coach remarked, "but he's 7-6."

Given how fluid things are, Houston's 15-11 start might be more impressive than it looks. "I don't know about that," Rockets general manager Carroll Dawson said, "but I can see the light."

Big Shawn can count on earful from Lil' General
Avery Johnson was asked to run another players-only practice Saturday morning after the Mavericks, with a 12-point loss to the Jazz, became the league's last team to lose a home game.

Riding Shawn Bradley, as he did for so long in San Antonio with a center named David Robinson, is another of Avery's frequent side gigs. The Mavericks want to make sure Bradley doesn't get too satisfied with his Month 1 press clippings, knowing how much they need any semblance of an interior defensive presence they can muster.

"What I keep telling him is, you've got to do what you do well 80 to 90 percent of the time," Johnson said. "That's when you shut people up. It's not about having a good November."

Bradley's December? Not as headline-grabbing as Month 1, but not bad, either. Bradley has three double-doubles this month -- compared to zero for all of last season -- and a 12-rebound, five-block showing last Wednesday in Denver.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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