DENVER — It was a throwaway comment in an otherwise thoughtful conversation.
Prior to the 2013-14 season, his 11th in the NBA, LeBron James sat down with Bleacher Report for an interview largely focused on his place in the league and how he can see himself as a supporter and friend of those with whom he most fiercely competes. Specifically, James spoke of Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who made James the godfather to his son.
"He’s like a brother of mine," James said. "Listen, when this game is over, and we’re done and our jerseys are hung up in whatever arena it is, or they place us in the NBA ranks, man, we’ve still got to live our life. We can’t let what people say about us (affect us), man. We still got to live our life. A long life too. I started this life when I was 18, I’ll be done by 40. So I got 50 more years to live, man. So, we all, as a group, can’t worry about what people say about us."
Roll that back.
What did he say about himself?
Done by 40?
"Yeah," he said, laughing while he walked away. "That is the age, right? I don't know. S--."
The rest of the NBA better hope he's joking.
If so, James—who may miss Monday's game in Denver with a groin injury—is just halfway done.
And look, as he turns 29 on Monday, what he's done already:
He's scored 21,819 points, 29th on the all-time list, passing Larry Bird and Gary Payton on Friday in Sacramento. He's roughly three healthy weeks from passing Clyde Drexler, too. Yes, he's more than halfway to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who retired with 38,387, a record that appears safe for a while with active leader Kobe Bryant (31,700) hobbling to the finish.
He's recorded 5,491 assists, 43rd on the all-time list and fourth among active players. He's just 142 behind Michael Jordan, who ranks 38th.
He's recorded 5,754 rebounds, 180th on the all-time list, though significantly higher among those who primarily played small forward.
And, of course, he's won four regular-season MVPs, within two of Abdul-Jabbar's total.
Where can he go from here?
In some categories, potentially where no man has gone before, partly because of his age when he started. He was 6,877 days old when he debuted, compared to 7,922 for Jordan and 8,221 for Abdul-Jabbar. And while Bryant started at a younger age—6,647 days old—James played 5,726 more minutes over the course of their respective first five seasons.
So he's had quite a head start to shoot up the charts.
Look again at where he stands, on the day he turns 29—with 21,819 points—compared to the top five on the all-time scoring list at that same age:
- Abdul-Jabbar was at 16,486 points.
- Karl Malone was at 14,770 points.
- Jordan was at 18,073 points.
- Bryant was at 19,296 points.
- Wilt Chamberlain was at 18,837 points, a result of starting at age 23 but averaging 50.4 points in his third season.
Bryant is age 35, while Abdul-Jabbar (41), Malone (40), Chamberlain (36) and Jordan (40) retired later, with Jordan missing four full seasons—and part of a fifth—in between.
Could James really play that long?
"In Washington?" James said. "Yeah, I remember a few plays. We all got to go sometime. S--. None of us can play forever. We all gotta go."
When will James' skills start to go? No one can know. Erik Spoelstra recently said that James is "smack in the middle of his prime, physically, mentally, emotionally."
Naturally, his physical assets—the speed, the explosiveness—will diminish some over time, because no one escapes that decline. But many of his other attributes don't figure to fade. He can still possess the balance of a Venetian gondolier, the anticipation of an action photographer and the desire of a champion marathoner well into his next decade. All while he continues to gain a better understanding of the game.
"I just try to live now, live in the moment," James said. "The man above knows how much time he's going to give me in this game. Once he decides I don’t have any more time to give, then I’ll call it quits."
Until he's 40?
If so, his name might be called first on every list.