We’ve seen LeBron James on the national stage for so long that it’s almost hard to believe he turns 36 in December. That’s an age when most NBA players are relegated to specialist roles, employed by teams to hit a few three-pointers, crash the boards or shut down the other team’s hot shooter.
That’s not LeBron, who is still posting numbers as strong or better than his career averages. His 25 points per game scoring is only a bucket below his usual, while his 10 assists are 3 better than his average.
He’s still dominating games, but he’s having a tremendous season dishing to his teammates. Yes, it helps when one of them is Anthony Davis.
But no matter the athlete, the clock keeps ticking. So with the NBA season back underway, and in the midst of its eight playoff ‘seeding’ games, we all should step back and think about LeBron the same way we think about Tiger. Nothing in sports lasts forever, not even King James. This is our chance to watch a player who is so elite that the only other mentioned in the same breath is Michael Jordan.
That’s the debate heard most often when discussing the NBA’s greatest player, and there’s one category where Jordan is well ahead. He won six NBA titles and led a dynasty with the Chicago Bulls, LeBron has three – two in Miami and one in Cleveland.
The NBA, if all goes well, will hand out two championships within the next year. Not saying this will happen, but LeBron could win two more titles before he turns 37.
He already is a 16-time All-Star with four league MVPs, three Finals MVPs and a pair of Olympic gold medals. LeBron ranks third in all-time points, but amazingly, he also ranks eighth in all-time assists. If you’re a sports sentimentalist like I am, you like to see the all-time greats go out in style. (And I’ll pull for LeBron, unless the Lakers are playing the New Orleans Pelicans and the newest NBA star to be known by his first name only – Zion! — which as of this writing remains possible.)
The Lakers say LeBron has a sore groin and sat him out the past two games, losses to the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers, but it’s likely the team is just being careful. Los Angeles already has clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and there is no reason to chase the NBA’s best record for potential home court advantage in The Finals because all games will be played in the Orlando bubble.
The Lakers will depend heavily on LeBron in the playoffs. Until then, they’ll want him to play enough to get the team’s sputtering offense in gear, but they also want him well-rested.
As for the NBA’s return-to-play plan, I think it’s reasonable. It seems well-conceived and makes a concerted effort to keep the players and personnel safe.
It’s also fair competitively. The 22 franchises playing are all the teams that had a chance to make the playoffs (eight from each conference) and the format allows for an additional two-game play-in tournament IF two teams are bunched for the final spot in each conference. (The Pelicans need to get hot.) Playing all the games in Orlando to eliminate travel risks is a smart move.
There’s plenty to watch. The Milwaukee Bucks are on a mission in the east, but to make the NBA Finals they’ll most likely have to get past the defending champion Toronto Raptors or the Boston Celtics.
Out west we could have an all-L.A. conference final – Lakers vs Clippers. And we’ll all get to see a little more of No. 23 for the Lakers, the veteran, future Hall of Fame point guard trying to take a third team to the top. It’s made for Hollywood, but filmed in Orlando.