LeBron James Has Completely Re-Written Rules for Aging Superstars

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterOctober 14, 2020

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James walks up court during the first half of Game 2 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Miami Heat on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

LeBron James' legacy is already one of the greatest in sports history.

Four MVPs. Ten trips to the NBA Finals. Sixteen-time All-Star. Rookie of the Year, scoring and assist champion.

What we fail to forget, of course, is that his resume is far from being complete.

Now winning his fourth NBA championship, James has tied some of the all-time greats in rings (Shaquille O'Neal, Robert Parish) while passing others (Larry Bird, Dwyane Wade, James Worthy). He's 35, sure, but still arguably the greatest player in the league who has shown no sign of slowing down entering his 18th season.

Winning three titles in a career is an incredible accomplishment. Winning a fourth in your mid-30's may persuade some players to retire, given their age and no longer needing a ring to feel validated.

But what if James isn't close to retiring? What if he plays another three years? Five? What about eight more seasons?

What if a fourth championship for James isn't considered the final destination of his career, but merely just another stop on a trip that's not running out of gas anytime soon?

Championships will forever serve as the measuring stick that NBA legends are judged by. Most basketball fans are well aware of Bill Russell's 11 rings, Michael Jordan's six and Kobe Bryant's five. It's a number that becomes a part of them, and the biggest piece of data that the game's greatest are compared by.

History has shown that almost no leading man wins titles after age 35, however.

Jordan was exactly 35 when the Chicago Bulls ended their second three-peat in 1998. Bryant was 31 in 2010 when he won his fifth with the Los Angeles Lakers. Larry Bird never captured a title in his 30s at all, taking home his third and final championship at 29 years old in 1986.

By this metric, James may be stuck at four rings, a number that still won't put him in any GOAT conversations by those who have Jordan listed at the top.

Of course, James isn't like any athlete we've ever seen before. At least, not in basketball.

"He’s Tom Brady. Brady probably out-works everybody in the offseason. LeBron’s the same way. Takes care of his body, watches what he eats. Constantly trying to improve. He and Brady both have a goal: championships. That’s all they want. They do everything to get to that level," one longtime NBA scout told Bleacher Report.

Brady, 43, is still playing at a high level in the NFL, winning Super Bowls at ages 37, 39 and 41. Had he retired at 35, the future Hall of Famer would only have half of his six championship rings.

Could James only be halfway to his final title count as well?

It's not unrealistic to think James will play into his 40s. Vince Carter just called it a career at 43 years old, and the Lakers did a good job of managing James' workload this season, playing him a career-low 34.6 minutes a night.

We've rarely seen a player with James' durability, either, as he's gone 260-for-260 in playoff games, never missing a contest in 14 years. James has been with the same trainer, Mike Mancias, since he entered the NBA in 2003-04. Mancias has traveled with him from Cleveland, to Miami, back to Cleveland and now in L.A., and knows his body and what it needs better than anyone. James also reportedly spends $1.5 million a year to take care of his body, an investment that has certainly paid off.

If his body allows him to spend another six, seven or even eight years in the league, that certainty puts James in the running for another handful of rings, if the Lakers don't mess anything up.

Ashley Landis/Associated Press

Anthony Davis is by far the most important factor when projecting James' eventual ring count. An upcoming unrestricted free agent, Davis almost certainly isn't leaving L.A., and James needs his overall game to help carry the Lakers to back-to-back titles.

Davis became the first teammate to ever average more points than James in any of his 17 seasons, a partnership that worked beautifully as the first-time point guard led the league in assists instead.

After getting Davis to re-sign, the Lakers will field mostly the same roster as this year. Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso are all under contract. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee all carry player options as well.

The Lakers won the title this year without arguably the team's best perimeter defender in Avery Bradley, who opted out of joining the bubble due to health concerns for his family. Bradley has a $5 million player option for next season, one the Lakers should beg him to pick up.

Winning a title and having the chance to play with James and Davis should encourage plenty of veterans to want to jump on board for the mid-level exception or veteran's minimum. Carmelo Anthony, Marc Gasol, Paul Millsap, Jeff Green and Kyle Korver would all qualify.

The summer of 2021 will also go a long way in deciding James' future success, as the Lakers should once again have cap space to spend. As of now, James' $41 million player option is the only contract on the payroll, although Davis should eat up a large percentage on a new deal and Kuzma will be a restricted free agent.

Championships still very much count even if James isn't necessarily the No. 1 option on offense, either. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won his fourth, fifth and sixth titles at ages 38, 40 and 41 with the Lakers, going from the team's leading scorer in 1985 to fourth on the team in points per game by the time he won his final ring in 1988.

"He’ll probably play 20 years like Kareem. His 20 years will be a lot more mileage than it was on Kareem because Kareem didn’t have to handle the ball. You’ll probably see him take more days off and play on the perimeter instead of driving to the rim," the NBA scout told B/R.

"He’s not only the best player in the NBA, he’s the smartest player in the NBA. He’s incredibly cerebral. Just watch him. He knows if you’re running a play, what the options are after. Second and third options before they even develop. LeBron does everything."

In addition to all of his physical gifts, James' cognitive ability should keep him in the league for as long as he wants. When the thunderous dunks, chase-down blocks and locomotive drives to the hoop are wearing thin, James will still be able to dissect a defense with his knowledge of the playbook, opponent weaknesses and his elite passing ability.

James' fourth title is a milestone in his iconic career, and perhaps his most unique when considering the struggles of living and playing in a bubble for the past three months.

Given James' durability and the Lakers' bright future, it may be far from his last.


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