CLEVELAND (Ohio) • LeBron James looked up to Larry Bird. Lonzo Ball looked up to James.
It all came full circle in Cleveland on Thursday, when James tied Bird for sixth all-time in triple-doubles and the Cavaliers beat the Los Angeles Lakers 121-112 in Ball's first National Basketball Association (NBA) game against one of his idols.
James' 59th triple-double over 15 seasons consisted of 25 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. Bird reached 59 in 13 seasons with the Celtics.
"He's one of the greatest players to ever play the game," James said of Bird. "And one of the few guys that ever be in a three-point contest and shoot with a warm-up shirt on. He played until he couldn't play no more.
"And for young guys that don't know him, they think of Larry Bird as a jump shooter.
"But he was so much more than that. He was a passer. He averaged double-digit rebounds. He defended. He took charges."
The Lakers' Ball, the No. 2 overall draft pick this year, finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. He received a pep talk after the game from James.
"He's said over and over since he was growing up and who he modelled his game after," James said of Ball. "Who was his favourite player? It was me, and I was humbled by that."
Ball, who used to have a poster of James on his wall, said of the three-time NBA champion: "Watching him doesn't do him justice. He has that size, that speed. I'd say he's the best player in the world right now."
MOST NBA TRIPLE-DOUBLES
181 Oscar Robertson138 Magic Johnson107 Jason Kidd86 Russell Westbrook78 Wilt Chamberlain59 Larry Bird LeBron James43 Lafayette "Fat'' Lever
Ball added that playing against his idol for the first time was "pretty cool".
Kevin Love led all scorers with 28 points while Jose Calderon added 17 points for Cleveland (21-8). Brandon Ingram paced the Lakers (10-17) with 26 points.
J.R. Smith (1,831) passed Chauncey Billups (1,830) for 11th in NBA history in three-pointers. Smith finished with eight points - the only Cleveland starter not to score in double figures.
Dwyane Wade and Kyle Korver scored 10 points apiece off the Cavs' bench.
"We're shooting the ball better," Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said.
"I think having 15 threes tonight, having 20 the other night, guys are shooting the basketball a lot better. When we're making shots, like I said, we're tough to guard."
The Cavs trailed by as many as nine in the second quarter but led 63-60 at half-time. They nailed 10 threes in the first half for a franchise-record 18 games with at least 10 three-pointers.
In Oakland, the Dallas Mavericks proved no match for the under-manned Golden State Warriors, who pulled away in the second half for a 112-97 victory.
MAN OF MANY TALENTS
For young guys that don't know him, they think of Larry Bird as a jump shooter. But he was so much more than that. He was a passer. He averaged double-digit rebounds. He defended. He took charges.
LEBRON JAMES, paying homage to the retired NBA star.
The champions, still without star Stephen Curry and missing starters Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia, notched their eighth straight win.
Kevin Durant equalled his season-high with 36 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. Klay Thompson added 25 points and made all five of his three-point attempts as Golden State improved to 23-7.
Dallas (8-21), led by veteran Dirk Nowitzki's 18 points, led 28-24 after the first quarter and were tied at 48-48 at half-time before Golden State seized control.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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