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Lakers: Birthday Boy LeBron James Remains One Of The Best Players In The NBA

AllLakers
AllLakers
 2021-12-31
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The Los Angeles Lakers' best player just turned 37 years old.

Taken out of context, that is a pretty terrifying sentence for any basketball fan who knows their stuff. That is an age at which mere mortals in the NBA ranks have long since retired.

Most other Lakers immortals were either retired or barely hanging on at age 37.

Struggling with knee issues, small forward Elgin Baylor played just nine games for the 1971-72 Lakers and, when faced with a bench role, opted to retire rather than confront the reality of his declining skill set. The Lakers would win their sixth NBA title without him that year. Point guard Magic Johnson was a year into his second and final retirement after mounting a successful comeback during the 1995-96 season at age 36, transitioning from an All-Star point guard into a reserve power forward after having been retired for four seasons. Guard Jerry West was two years into retirement, and one year away from starting his coaching career. Shaq was a Cleveland Cavalier.

Shooting guard Kobe Bryant played his final, 20th season as a 37-year-old, and though fans had voted him into his 18th All-Star game appearance in 2015-16, Bryant was no longer one of the best players in the NBA by any other metric. James is signed through the 2022-23 NBA season, during which he will earn $44.5 million. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2023, at age 38, after his 20th season. The four-time NBA MVP's son LeBron "Bronny" James Jr. could be eligible to suit up in the league during the 2023-24 season, and the elder James has long said he hopes to play alongside Bronny.

Center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar remains the gold standard for past Lakers during their age-37 seasons. "Cap" made an All-Star team and won his fourth NBA championship and his second Finals MVP during his age-37 season in 1985. He was also named to the All-NBA Second Team.

Given the state of this Lakers roster, it's tough to see LeBron winning his fifth title or fifth Finals MVP award this season, but he certainly looks like a shoo-in to become an All-Star starter in what would be his 18th All-Star game and, provided he stays relatively healthy, make his 17th All-NBA team.

That James remains one of the five or ten best players in the NBA, in his 19th season, is nothing short of remarkable. He invests possibly as much as $1.5 million a year to keep himself at his All-Star best, a price that apparently covers trainers, massage therapists, chefs, a home gym and other gear.

He can certainly afford it. Earlier this year, it was revealed that James boasts a net worth of $850 million, thanks to a combination of $387.9 million in career earnings through this season and hundreds of millions more in off-court revenue.

Across 28 games, the 6'9" forward has turned in yet another season for the ages. He is averaging 28 points per game, while shooting 52% from the floor. He has really improved as a shooter over the years. James is connecting on 36.9% of a career-most 7.8 triples a night, and nailing a career-best 78.1% from the free-throw line. James is also chipping in 7.2 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.1 blocks a night for the 17-19 Lakers. He is no longer the all-world defender he was during his Miami Heat-era athletic prime, but James still seems capable of turning it on when it comes to guarding the opposition's top perimeter players in the postseason.

James is a one-of-a-kind player, and the fact that he remains one of the best in the NBA is a testament to his enduring greatness.

How much longer can King James keep this up? That remains unclear, he is blazing a unique trail when it comes to his longevity.

James has played an astonishing 61,982 in combined career regular season and playoff minutes. He ranks fourth in NBA/ABA history for most regular season minutes played, at 50,947, behind just Kareem, ex-Laker (and, fine, ex-Jazz player) Karl Malone, and Dirk Nowtizki. James already ranks first, by far, in NBA/ABA playoff minutes. His 11,035 playoff minutes far outpaces the man in second place, Spurs Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, who faced off against James in three NBA Finals.

LeBron ranks third in history for most cumulative points scored across both leagues, with 36,038 and counting. He is just 890 points behind Malone, and seems poised to catch the Jazz great this season, health permitting. Kareem's 38,387 points will be tougher to match, but it does seem like a stat that will eventually fall by the wayside, too. James also ranks eighth all-time in assists (9,858) and 46th all-time in rebounds. His 9,924 total boards ranks him behind another current Laker, DeAndre Jordan, who boasts an all-time sum of 10,033 rebounds.

Another seemingly age-defying all-timer, Tom Brady, earned significant praise for his sustained excellence after winning his record seventh Super Bowl title earlier this year, his first with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“It’s very inspiring for a guy like myself," James said of the then-43-year-old Brady's success. "I don’t know how long I’m going to play the game. I don’t know how much more I’ll be able to give to the game. But the way I feel right now, we’ll see what happens. I have no timetable on it. I have no year of 'Do I want to play until 30 this or 40 that?' The game will let me know when it’s time. We’ll figure it out then.”

Happy birthday, LBJ! Here's hoping your NBA tenure lasts many, many more years.

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