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Michael Jordan: With Kobe Bryant injured, LeBron James is NBA’s best player

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(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Sport)

NBA legend Michael Jordan said Friday that LeBron James is the best player in the NBA, marking a change in tune, as he’s generally favored Lakers guard Kobe Bryant over the Heat forward.

”It’s hard to pick. It’s hard to say the best player,” Jordan told the Associated Press in an interview. ”You would have to say LeBron because of what he’s capable of doing. Kobe is coming off an injury and you don’t know where he is going to be at his age. I would have to say LeBron.”

Bryant, 35, is out indefinitely as he recovers from a season-ending Achilles injury. He averaged 27.3 points, 6 assists and 5.6 rebounds for the Lakers last season.

The 28-year-old James has won four MVP awards in the last five years and back-to-back Finals MVP awards, leading the Heat to the 2012 and 2013 titles. He averaged 26.8 points, 8 rebounds and 7.3 assists last season.

Back in February, Jordan told NBA TV that he would take Bryant over James because the former had five championship rings, while the latter only had one (at the time).

“If you had to pick between the two, that would be a tough choice, but five beats one every time I look at it,” Jordan said. “And not that he [James] won’t get five, he may get more than that, but five is bigger than one.”

Also in February, the legendary Bulls guard and current owner of the Bobcats told ESPN: The Magazine that he would defend James by encouraging him to go left.

“So if I have to guard him,” Jordan said, “I’m gonna push him left so nine times out of 10, he’s gonna shoot a jump shot. If he goes right, he’s going to the hole and I can’t stop him. So I ain’t letting him go right.”

Then, in an October promotional interview for “NBA 2K14″, Jordan said that he felt he could beat James in a hypothetical game of one-on-one between the two players during their respective primes, but that Bryant might be able to beat him.

“I don’t think I’d lose, other than Kobe Bryant, because he steals all my moves,” Jordan said.

James has embraced the challenge of eclipsing Jordan as the greatest ever.

“I want to be the greatest of all time,” James said in September, according to ESPN.com. “It’s that simple, I’m far away from it, but I see the light.”

Following the Heat’s 2013 Finals triumph, James detailed his “MJ moment” — a late Game 7 jumper — to Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins.

  “I know it wasn’t the magnitude of MJ hitting that shot in ’98, but I definitely thought about him,” James said. “It was an MJ moment.” He paused as a turn of phrase came to mind. “It was an LJ moment.”

SI.com ranked James No. 1 in our Top 100 Players of 2014 list. Bryant was No. 9.

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