In order for Paul George to be the best, he not only wants to beat the best – he wants to learn from him, too.
They are two of the league’s most talented on the court: the king of the NBA versus the rising star, reigning MVP against future contender. There is no doubt George views LeBron James as fierce competition as they battle for the Eastern Conference. One day, though, he’d also like to call him his mentor.
“It would be great to be able to pick his brain, pick his mind and just talk about the game because I think he’s a player that can help me get to the next level and continue to keep going to the next level,” George told Basketball Insiders. “I wish some day we have that relationship where he is someone I can talk to—not during the season because I’m too competitive during the season—but maybe in the summertime.”
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James has not been shy about his appreciation for George’s game since he was drafted by the Pacers with the 10th overall pick in 2010. He has expressed encouragement along the way, telling the 23-year-old to continue playing at a high level. During the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals James made a PDA (public display of appreciation, in this case) when he offered George a low five following a sequence in which George drove past him and dunked on Chris Andersen, and then responded by pulling up for a buzzer-beating trey against George.
They engage in small, casual conversations when they’re on the court together. Once the games are over, James will congratulate George and urge him to keep pushing. Other than those in-game exchanges, though, George explained “we don’t talk really.”
That’s something he would like to see change over time. While George already considers James to play a mentor role in the sense of being someone who has been positive toward him, he would also like to have the type of relationship where he can reach out to talk basketball. George said he could message James “if need be,” but hasn’t done so yet.
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“He’s someone that motivates me,” said George, who is averaging 22.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game. “This league is all about guys being competitive and competing. And don’t get me wrong, every time I’m matched up with him I’m going to try to get the best out of him and come out as the best player of that game. But at the same time, he’s been someone that I looked up to. He’s someone I’m going to continue to look up to because at the end of the day, the position I want to be in is where he’s at.”
In a recent interview with GQ, James talked about how he has become a mentor for Johnny Manziel and mentioned that he could see himself doing something similar with George.
“I’m very good at knowing talent, I guess. I knew he could be really, really good,” James said of George, according to GQ. “I had a couple of conversations with him. I just see talent in a guy…. I’d do it for anyone. But if someone reaches out to me for advice how to get better, I’m doing it. I can’t tell what I said. My secret words.”
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George has his sights set high when it comes to his desired list of mentors. Along with James, he would like to add Kobe Bryant also.
“All-Star Weekend, he gave me a couple words and every time I do run into him he gives me a couple words,” George said. “He’s a player as well that I look up to and wish would mentor me.”
While there are basketball hopefuls of all ages who strive to reach George’s level of talent, he feels he has a ways to go before he is ready to assume the mentor position he is still seeking out for himself.
“I’m still young so there’s a lot of stuff I have to learn before I feel like I can help a young guy,” George said. “I’ve got to grow into my mentoring role and then I’ll be one of those guys that mentors young guys.”