LeBron James is three months short of 35 years old. He has been toiling at the sport’s highest level since being drafted first overall in 2003, in the process accumulating mileage topped only by a handful of legends. His numbers indicate both his longevity and the downward trajectory of his career: 16 years, 1,437 games, 56,284 minutes. And, moving forward, he figures to be viewed from the perspective of critical quarters only too cognizant of the dichotomy. He has delivered the goods too often to be doubted, but ultimately isn’t immune to the single most significant factor even the best of the best cannot overcome: time.
Indeed, James has had his unique physique and skill set going for him. At the same time, he just went through a season in which he was sidelined for a protracted period due to injury. It may have been a first, but it nonetheless sent alarm bells pundits’ way — so much so that they promptly undervalued his 27.4-8.5-8.3 stat line and all but forgot his virtuoso performance in the 2018 Playoffs. And, given the demands of pro hoops, asking “What have you done for me lately?” isn’t just understandable, but justified and even necessary.
Nonetheless, there can be no denying James’ continued influence over the league. Off the court, he was instrumental in paving the way for fellow All-Star Anthony Davis’ transfer to the Lakers. Conversely, he was likewise a factor in Finals Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard’s decision to spurn their entreaties and instead move to the Clippers. Meanwhile, he shone the light on such relevant discussions as pay for college players and safety issues concerning ninja-style headgear. The latter was particularly informative of his unparalleled sway; it was already disapproved from use as early as May, and yet still became the subject of spirited back and forth in social media and, more importantly, in a meeting by the competition committee earlier this week — after video of him practicing with it made waves.
James himself is mum about his readiness, out of character in the face of his willingness — or, to be more precise, desire — to speak out when he can and as often as he can. No doubt, it’s because he wants his playing to do the talking for him. And, in this regard, he’s putting in the time as he has always been. Those close to him deem his 2019-20 campaign a surefire bounceback. He has a much better, more complementary roster around him. Most critically, he’s motivated to prove naysayers wrong. Whether his exertions will lead to a title remains to be seen. What won’t be in question, however, is his drive. He owes it to Davis. He owes it to the Lakers. He owes it to himself.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.