Despite having just played 36 minutes, the bounce was still evident in LeBron James’ voice in the aftermath of the Lakers’ emphatic win against the Celtics the other day. No doubt, the fact that they had four days of rest prior to hosting their longtime rivals helped; he scored 16 points in the first quarter alone, and he stayed active and efficient the rest of the way en route to putting up 30 (on 19 shots), four, and five. As he told scribes in his post-mortem, “I’m as young as I’ve ever been.”
Hmm. Perhaps not. There can be no denying the mileage James has accumulated through 19 seasons in the National Basketball Association; beyond turning 37 by the end of the month, his odometer — close to 62,000 minutes — makes him old for his age. Moreover, the numbers don’t lie; advanced statistics have his player efficiency rating declining for the fourth consecutive year. Heck, he’s not even at the top of the Lakers’ list in the category; the distinction now belongs to fellow All-Star Anthony Davis.
And then there are the injuries James has sustained with increasing frequency of late. It’s no coincidence that, after playing all 82 regular-season matches for the Cavaliers in the 2017-18 season, he wound up missing a whopping 58 in the next three years. For the current campaign, he has been compelled to sit out 12 of the Lakers’ 25 set-tos. To argue that his iron-man reputation has taken a hit in recent memory would be to understate the obvious.
Still, James is James, which is why he continues to be the Lakers’ most vital cog. Precisely because he doesn’t seem to have a lot of time anymore, he aims to make the most of his chances. So far, the outlook hasn’t been great; the purple and gold are wallowing in mediocrity and evidently still searching for identity, their victory over their fellow pioneers notwithstanding. If his immediate past pronouncements are to be a gauge, however, better things are in store. He’s not the best problem solver in the league for nothing, and, if nothing else, he’ll be sure to take the opportunity to prove that things are, indeed, looking up.
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.