LeBron James is the most complete basketball player in the NBA. He’s a future hall-of-famer and possibly one of the five best players to ever play. He’s accomplished a lot in his 11 seasons, and still has some time left. I think we are at the point where we can legitimately question how much longer he can play, though.
He has an insane physical presence at 6-foot-8, 250 pounds and can take a lot of contact and punishment on a nightly basis in the NBA. He’s only 29 years old, but his 11 seasons played is a little deceiving. His success has added on 156 playoffs which equate to almost two additional seasons.
He’s also been a part of three Olympics. The concern wasn’t the minutes he played in the Olympics. He had some chances to rest because of the caliber of players he was with and their margins of victory. It’s the commitment itself to be a part of those games.
During those years, he hardly got a break to rest his body and mind as the NBA season transitioned into the summer. Add in the international travel and expectation to perform in all qualifying and tournament games, and it really takes its toll on the human body.
I’m not saying James is finished. He’s still in his prime, and when he is on top of his game, there isn’t another player close to him. However, if you think these things don’t matter, just look at his teammate Dwyane Wade.
Wade is only 32 years old, and an 11-year NBA veteran. His fearless play has caused him to accumulate a lot of bumps and bruises. The wear and tear has come back to bite him the past couple of years. He has sat out many regular season games and his minutes are constantly monitored.
James is significantly taller and heavier than Wade. His body can take more contact and work through the grind a little bit better, but his size can also be a detriment.
James has played 842 regular season games at 36 minutes per game. He’s also notched 157 playoff games at 42 minutes per contest. Just imagine lugging that weight around every night while trying to compete against the world’s best players.
If he plans to play as long as Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, or Kevin Garnett he must adapt his game. Those guys are less physical now. They are now jump shooters who have modified their games, and in turn prolonged their careers.
Even the great Michael Jordan was a shell of himself late in his career. He wasn’t soaring from the free throw line. Instead, he was shooting fade away jumpers from the block and elbow.
Nobody knows how long James will play, but his body won’t hold up forever. Unless his minutes are modified or he changes his game, he won’t last. He must adapt and develop his game if he expects to be around for another decade.