By Anthony L. Cuaycong
National Basketball Association (NBA) stars don’t usually shine well into their 30s. Because of the rigorous nature of their work and the demands on their talents under pressure, they suffer from drops in performance by the time they’re in their third decade. And even as advances in technology and fitness regimens have served to lengthen careers, productivity is still expected to taper off. No one defeats Father Time.
Don’t tell that to LeBron James, though. He’s not stupid; he understands that, as with all other players before him, he will eventually have to exit stage left. Nonetheless, he has taken pains to delay the inevitable by taking care of his body as best he can. It helps, of course, that he’s blessed with physical attributes that have kept him largely injury-free; even though he turned pro in his teens and has, to date, burned rubber for over 51,000 minutes through a whopping 1,295 games, the playoffs included, he remains in the pink of health. In fact, he leads the league in minutes played, never mind that, at 33, he’s a veritable elder statesman.
For the Cavaliers, the good news is that James appears to be getting better — and how — with age. This season, he’s norming 28.3 points per contest (his highest since the turn of the decade) off a career-best effective field goal rate of 62.9% and boasts of a Player Efficiency Rating of 30, a number not seen outside of his Most Valuable Player campaigns. Given the franchise’s offseason turnover and bouts with injury, it’s fair to argue that his eye-popping contributions have kept it afloat.
No wonder, then, that James continues to be the NBA’s gold standard. Ask any hoops habitue, and you’d readily be told that he’s the league’s best player by far. And as for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, he’s at least bent on proving that he deserves to remain in the conversation. He was slighted by his absence from the Top Five of voting results for the award this year after having posted career highs in rebounds in assists, no doubt fueling his fast start.
Naysayers have contended that James will not be able to sustain his otherworldly play, and that, if the Cavaliers truly want to regain the championship, they would do well to rest him more. On the other hand, there is likewise cause to claim that he’s on the court longer than all others precisely because no one can approximate his worth. A regression to the mean may well be in the offing, but, lest we forget, his mean far exceeds everybody else’s. Which is to say concerns about him wearing down are valid but ultimately overblown. At this point, only he knows how to best pace himself. And if he wants to play, who’s to say he shouldn’t?
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is the Senior Vice-President and General Manager of Basic Energy Corp.