From before his NBA career even began, everyone knew LeBron James possessed talent such that he could probably make the Hall of Fame with merely replacement-level preparation and basketball intelligence.
Fortunately for him, the teams he has played for, Nike, and basketball fans in general, James’ preparation and intelligence are as extraordinary as his physical gifts. And now, at age 33, he is disproving an old adage that by the time you learn how to play basketball, you’re already too old to do it.
“I’m like a fine wine,” James said. “I get better with age.”
This is not literally true, obviously. While James’ physical tools haven’t deteriorated much, you’d still take, say, 2012 Lebron over 2018 Lebron. Time, as they say, is undefeated, and it will come for us all eventually.
But watch him play, and look at his numbers — 27-9-9 this year — and watch this pass …
… or this dribble move …
… or any number of plays James still makes on a routine basis, and it gets pretty tough to think of him as anything close to “old” at this point.
Like Tom Brady and some others, James has put in a lot of work on his body through nutrition, training and treatment to prepare for precisely that point in his career where the body stops cooperating like it once did. And as with Brady, who turns 41 this year, James appears to be having good success kicking the physiological can down the road while playing an even more sophisticated mental game.
For ages, a player approaching his mid-30s was a player on the verge of retirement. Michael Jordan was 35 when he retired for the first time (40 the second time). Larry Bird was 31. Allen Iverson was 35, David Robinson was 37. Kobe Bryant played until he was 37, wrapping up his letter to basketball by saying, in verse, “My heart can take the pounding/My mind can handle the grind/But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.”
When it goes, it goes quick, but LeBron’s body appears to be a few years from saying goodbye. He is a unique specimen, but with modern medicine, training and nutrition, more players than ever will be able to stave off that physical decline and find that sweet spot of basketball enlightenment while they can still do it.