The average NBA player’s career lasts only 4.8 years, about the same time it takes for a drink packet to decompose or the lifespan of a guinea pig. Players who choose to endure the relentless mental pressure and physical pounding for 15 or 20 years are rare. Only seven NBA players have made it to 20 or more seasons, myself among them. Those of us who were still playing in our mid-30s faced the endless speculation about whether we were still fit enough, strong enough, and skilled enough to continue to be an imposing force in the game. Every news article or commentary about us was guaranteed to include the qualifier “for his age”. Ageing athletes are treated like terminally ill patients, with everyone speculating when our demise will finally come. LeBron James, 33 years old and finishing his 15th season, continues to break records, including my own all-time field goal postseason record, as he gets ready to play in his eighth straight NBA finals.
I often get asked about LeBron. How does his play now compare to when he was younger? How long can he keep playing? What does it take to stay in the game so long? Is he the best player who ever lived?
LeBron is a much better player today than he was when he was younger. Few can dispute that he was the catalyst who drove the Cavaliers to defeat the Celtics in the playoffs. Having that power isn’t just a matter of skill, it’s a willingness to take on the responsibility of rallying the team and of having the respect of the team as a leader, not just a player. Seizing that responsibility shows a man of confidence, maturity and inner strength. Earning the team’s respect shows a man who is knowledgeable about the game, dedicated to the team as a whole and cares about players as individuals. LeBron is a great individual player, but he’s an even greater team member. And that’s what wins championships.