Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James looks around during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls, Saturday, March 17, 2018, in Chicago. The Cavaliers won114-109. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Photo: Nam Y. Huh/AP
Photo: Nam Y. Huh/AP

We're all witnesses to LeBron James' greatness

The 11-year-old kid wearing the LeBron James jersey who scored James' game-worn arm sleeve late Saturday night didn't have to be told to appreciate what we're all witnessing.

His tears said it all.

"In joy, I hope, not because of the sweat," James cracked.

Unlike in some of his previous stops in Chicago, James downplayed a question about the special nature of playing at the United Center.

"I like playing in every building, to be honest," he said. "I just love to hoop. I'm a gym rat. I love being in the gym. I love playing ball. And the fact I get to do it in front of pretty much a sold-out crowd every night either at home or on the road is an honor and blessing for me."

Nevertheless, some similarities between James and another No. 23 who used to grace the United Center hardwood are unmistakable. Behold the greatness. Savor it. Like a Michael Jordan follow-through, it doesn't last forever.

Every time James plays, it makes the night an event with a capital E. You don't see Ohio native and Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky sitting courtside with teammate Kyle Long at, say, Bulls-Hawks.

From the shrieks during lineup introductions to the postgame screams to take home anything he has touched, James engenders the same swooning reactions Jordan did. He just plies his trade here twice a year as opposed to Jordan's 41, not counting the playoffs, of course.

James has dominated — or decimated Bulls playoff runs — in Chicago so many times that Saturday night might've felt like just another night at the office. But the force with which he played on a night the Cavaliers were far from whole, not to mention the joy he displayed afterward, said otherwise.

The 33-point, 12-rebound and 12-assist effort marked James' 70th career triple-double.

"The joy of the game is very high for me right now," James admitted.

James sat as part of a captive audience when the Bulls pitched him in 2010 free agency, impressed by Tom Thibodeau's X's and O's, John Paxson's pedigree and personality and Jerry Reinsdorf's sense of humor. As a fan of the league and its history, he has talked glowingly of the organization's history in previous stops.

That he has broken the Bulls' hearts so often could be his sign of appreciation. After all, Jordan was as ruthless a competitor as the game has seen.

James has drawn unfounded criticism in the past for not possessing Jordan's assassin-like mentality — for dishing instead of dominating at times, for making the right basketball play. Never mind that the memory of James basically driving a stake through the heart of the Thibodeau era with his buzzer-beating jumper in Game 4 of the 2015 playoffs second round still lingers.

James' all-around artistry should be complimented as the standard for how to play, not criticized.

None of this is to compare the games of James and Jordan. It's merely to hope it's appreciated, mindful that it won't last forever.

Here we are in season No. 15. James is averaging 27.1 points, tied for his highest scoring average since 2009-10. He's averaging a career-high nine assists and a career-high-tying 8.6 rebounds. He's shooting 54.5 percent, the fourth-most accurate of his career.

That's not just greatness. It's ridiculousness.

The Bulls won't face the Cavaliers in the playoffs because, well, those days are gone for now at the United Center. And four, five, maybe six years from now, so, too, will be the dominance of James, who turned 33 in December.

Late Saturday, James answered earnestly when asked how he determines who gets his occasional postgame gifts.

"Sometimes, the eyes do all the talking, how genuinely they look at me," James said. "I just try to be an inspiration to them and leave an impression other than me playing basketball."

As if that's not great enough.

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