By Dan Strayer

3rd December 2019

LeBron James Age: The Five Ages Of A Basketball King

SOURCE: CBS Sports

Now 34 years old, NBA star LeBron James’ age isn’t actually the biggest worry regarding his career.

The biggest worry is the wear and tear he’s had to endure. Similar to car engines and racehorses, the timeline of a player’s career relies on how much they have left. He or she is dependent on rust, rest and recovery in addition to age.

It’s an odometer of sorts, a ticking clock as the mid-to-late 30s creep along. As a Hall of Fame player and famed NBA commentator Charles Barkley once stated,

“Father Time is undefeated.”

The odometer on LeBron James age

These are the considerations for the Akron, Ohio native in his age 34 years. James is cited with Michael Jordan and Bill Russell as one of the most decorated players in NBA history. And although James often comes up just short of those as the best, it is a truly fantastic CV. That’s because the accomplishments have piled up throughout James’ 17-year career:

  • He’s a four-time league Most Valuable Player. That puts him second only to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6) and both Russell and Jordan (5 apiece).
  • He’s led three teams to the NBA title (two with the Miami Heat, one with the Cleveland Cavaliers).
  • He’s won two Olympic gold medals (at Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012). He also won a Silver in Athens in 2004.
  • There’s also the matter of the nickname. Bestowed upon him on his way to the top of the Basketball Pyramid: “King James.” That’s right: he shares the moniker of an English King associated with a Bible.
  • He’s the first player since Russell to have reached the NBA Finals for eight consecutive years.
  • Consequently, he’s been on teams that have played games from October to June for eight consecutive years. Ergo, the odometer issue.

But how do we break down the different ages of LeBron’s career? Effectively, we need to go back to the beginning.

LeBron James age 18 was a phenom from Akron, Ohio.
SOURCE: USA Today

LeBron James Age I: From High School Phenom to All-Star

It has been argued that no high school athlete was better suited to have his picture next to the word “phenom” than LeBron James. The 6-foot, 8-inch standout at St Vincent-St Mary’s High School in Akron proved to be a natural. He commanded double teams on the court. His physical, downhill style of play created easy scoring opportunities on a regular basis.

Under the headline “The Chosen One,” James’ prodigious skills landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Plaudits from leading commentators flooded in. So high was the praise of LeBron’s game that he seemed (on the surface) to be a sure thing. He announced he would bypass college to play in the NBA after high school graduation.

The nearby Cleveland Cavaliers made him the top pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. Entering the league as an 18-year-old, James faced a significant burden.

  • He was part of a lacklustre Cavs roster with no discernible all-stars.
  • The Cleveland franchise at that point had never reached the NBA Finals.
  • He carried the additional weight of having bypassed college basketball to become a professional.
  • During his first game, Nike released a commercial starring the late Bernie Mac that introduced the world to “King James”
  • Cleveland’s front office saw turmoil. General manager Jim Paxson would be removed after the 2004 season, as would head coach Paul Silas in 2005.
  • Teammate Carlos Boozer reneged on a promise to then Cavaliers owner George Gund and left to sign with the Utah Jazz.

Into this team came a supposed 18-year-old saviour. And yet, despite everything falling down all around him, James persevered. And he even thrived.

  • In winning the 2003-4 Rookie of the Year, James helped Cleveland win 18 more games than the previous season.
  • During the 2004-5 contest, James reached his first All-Star Game and was also named first-team All-NBA. The latter feat he would achieve again 11 more times and counting.
  • He’d take home the All-Star Game MVP in February 2006. Simultaneously, he led the Cavs to their first postseason appearance since 1998.

Moreover, James’ game IQ and unselfish play had forced the league to take notice. Said NBA head coach Doc Rivers of the 20-year-old James:

“Forget the talent and the athletic ability, it’s his maturity that’s light years ahead. He keeps his teammates involved. That he’s willing to drive it at the end of a game and kick it to a teammate, well, that’s not like a second-year player.”

LeBron James Age II: Title Contender to The Decision

The next step in LeBron James’ age-defying march to basketball greatness followed in 2006-7. During the postseason, the potential of James was on full display in their run to the NBA Eastern Conference title. For the Cavaliers franchise, it marked the best season they’d ever had since their 1968 inception.

The 22-year-old James was a one-man wrecking crew for an otherwise overmatched Cleveland team. Bulling through the Eastern Conference playoffs, James’ performance in Game 5 of the Conference Finals was the bulwark of the run. Against the favoured Detroit Pistons, he scored the Cavaliers’ final 25 points en route to a stunning overtime victory.

It has to be seen to be believed.

Alas, hopes of ending the City of Cleveland’s then 43-year championship drought (more on that later) ended. The Cavs were overwhelmed by the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.

Accomplishment and burden

The accomplishments continued to pile up through James’ age 25 season in 2010. A perennial all-star and All-NBA team selection, LeBron was also recognised as one of the league’s top defenders. Moreover, he became more than just a vote recipient as the league MVP. In both 2009 and 2010, James won the MVP award.

James is the only Cavalier to win the award. He’s also the first Cleveland athlete to win a sport’s top individual award since 1980. That year, gridiron star Brian Sipe of the Cleveland Browns was honoured by the NFL.

Cleveland had both the best player in the league and their first real shot in years to win a championship. James and Cleveland are bound by the close proximity of the city to his home in Akron. Moreover, the youngster had an uncanny ability to embrace the key moments of the game. James also won a gold medal playing for Team USA in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Now, fans in Northeast Ohio dared hope that their championship drought would end.

Yet the end of each season during this period of LeBron’s career came up short in the NBA playoffs.

  • In 2008, James put up a brilliant 45 point Game 7 playoff masterpiece against Boston. But it was not enough to overcome Paul Pierce and the title-bound Celtics.
  • In 2009, league MVP James again pulled out all the stops in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, his Cleveland teammates had no answer for the hot shooting Orlando Magic.
  • In 2010, he soared to another league MVP. Once again, they couldn’t get out of the second round of the playoffs in another disappointing loss to Boston.

The Decision

LeBron James age 23 brings home the gold medal from Beijing for the US Olympic Team
SOURCE: SB Nation

The 2010 defeat proved to be the last straw for James in Cleveland. Burdened by overwhelming expectations and a desire to choose his destiny in where he played, James broke away. In a controversial live television special in June 2010, he announced he’d sign with the Miami Heat.

Joining fellow NBA all-stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, The Heatles commanded centre stage of the NBA. A new age beckoned in the career of LeBron James.

For Cleveland sports fans, it was too much to handle.

  • Enraged fans burned replica James jerseys.
  • Cavaliers team owner Dan Gilbert wrote a ridiculed Comic Sans letter littered with unrealistic expectations.
  • They would miss the playoffs for the next four years. So bad were the Cavs that they earned the league’s top draft pick three times.
  • The man who would be King had effectively become Public Enemy No. 1.

LeBron James Age III: The Heatles

The early stages of James’ first season in Miami did not ease the pain. For both Clevelanders and those left dumbfounded by The Decision. Now he seemed somewhat indifferent and aloof by the PR stunt. James predicted multiple titles for the so-called Heatles at their initial press conference in 2010.

Internally and externally, the Heatles faced big expectations. The nickname reflects both the core members’ star power and the increase in the volume of media coverage they commanded.

There was some speculation of James possibly averaging a triple-double for an entire season. This was a rare prediction. Overall, it was a result of the perception that James could take on a smaller scoring burden thanks to the competencies of his new teammates. A mediocre 9-8 start to the season did not placate critics, and Miami’s stars struggled to figure out their roles.

SOURCE: Yahoo

Even playoff success went sour in 2011. James reached the NBA Finals for the second time in June but came up on the short end again. The matter was made worse by James performance in the series.

His scoring average (26 points per game in the regular season) fell to just 18 in the title round. As the Dallas Mavericks took home their first NBA title, questions arose about LeBron’s ability to win a title.

LeBron comes of age, wins a title

But in the strike-shorted 2012 season, Miami’s on-court product proved to be sublime. The Heat cruised to the NBA Finals over the next four seasons, representing the Eastern Conference. The Heatles (James, Bosh and Wade) figured out how to work together, as James emerged as the team’s alpha dog.

Forcing opponents to adapt to counter Miami’s unselfish offence and collection of shooters, James flourished. He averaged 26.7 points, 8 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game in 2012. The numbers returned him to league MVP form in 2012, and again 2013.

Even better for James and his fans, the individual success in those triumphant seasons led to team success. James and the Heat would top Oklahoma City in 2012 and San Antonio in 2013 to win the NBA title.

The 2012-13 season was the Mona Lisa of James’ career.

  • He was coming off of his second gold medal at London 2012.
  • Additionally, he led Miami to a league-best 66 wins, which was also the best output in team history.
  • He led the Heat on a dizzying 27-game winning streak between February and March 2013. The tally marks the third-longest winning streak in NBA history.
  • James took home both league and Finals MVP awards.
  • He’d be named to the league’s First-Team All-NBA and All-Defense teams.

The next move

LeBron James age 28 had won two of three NBA titles
Source: SB Nation

The titles and individual accolades validated James’ move to Miami. The motivated Spurs would return serve by winning the 2014 NBA Finals. Yet James was one of the league’s top players on one of the league’s best basketball teams. His unselfish play and ability to add a new facet to his game each season gave defences fits.

Now as a forward with multiple titles, comparisons to fellow famous forwards were deemed too small. His status as one of the best basketball players of all-time was now in play.

But just like after the 2010 NBA season, James entered the 2014 offseason as a free agent.

LeBron James Age IV: a Cavalier Attitude pays off

With a pair of title rings in tow, LeBron entered free agency again. Courted once again by the league’s top teams, he chose to return to Cleveland from the 2014-15 season.

The goal was clear: NBA title. Teamed with Kyrie Irving, James and the Cavaliers set the pace once again in the Eastern Conference. They swept the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007.

They pushed the Golden State Warriors to overtime in game 1, where disaster struck. Irving suffered a series-ending injury. James bravely carried the Cavaliers on his back, even procuring a 2-1 series lead.

LeBron James and former US first lady Michelle Obama embrace after he put the finishing touches on his second gold medal at London 2012
SOURCE: Obama White House Archives

Averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists, James’ heroics were still not enough. Golden State prevailed 4 games to 2. Cleveland’s title dreams would have to wait again…

Finally: Cleveland Rocks!

…for exactly one year, facing the high scoring, record-setting Warriors again. The underdog Cavaliers (now commanded by new head coach Tyronn Lue) dug themselves a 3-1 hole in the series. With their backs to the wall, James took off.

Despite his heroics the year before, his shooting percentage was down. This year, James shot nearly 50% and fell just shy of a triple-double performance in the Finals. The Cavaliers slowed down the pace and won a battle of wills. James nailed down the Bay City’s fate with one of the most memorable blocked shots in NBA history.

The first title for the city was secured in a 93-89 upset. Winning a Finals Game 7 on the road marked a first since 1978 when the Washington Bullets defeated the Seattle SuperSonics.

The Cavaliers would return to the NBA Finals in 2017 and 2018 with James again serving as their talisman. But the Warriors were ready and waiting and both times, bolstered by sharpshooting MVP Kevin Durant.

The Warriors would claim both titles easily. Cleveland’s ageing roster mustered all it could from James, Kevin Love and J.R. Smith.

Once again, James was a free agent.

LeBron James Age V: A Laker Resurgence?

James signed a $154 million dollar contract with the Los Angeles Lakers in July 2018. The latest stage of his career is has been transitional in nature. LeBron is approaching his 20th season in professional basketball. Only seven players in NBA history have reached that milestone. Embarking on the 2018-19 season, James brought the Lakers tons of accolades and eight straight seasons of Finals appearances with him. Which brings us full circle to the James career odometer.

So, the wear and tear factor has risen with age and achievement for James. But the first quarter of the 2019-20 NBA season approaches. And the strong start of his Lakers squad opens up the possibilities of a return to championship ways. The Lakers (as of this writing) are off to a 17-3 record, buoyed by both James and MVP candidate Anthony Davis.

It will be difficult to maintain such a pace into May and June 2020. That’s the timeline to reach as the Lakers hope to claim their first NBA title since 2010. The 10 years marks the Lakers’ longest title dry spell since the years between 1988 and 2000.

Denzel Washington (pictured with former Lakers great Magic Johnson) is one of a host of celebrity fans of the storied NBA franchise
SOURCE: Chicago Tribune

The Laker Dynasties

What would another championship run mean for James NBA Legends CV? In short, he’d still have fewer overall titles than Jordan (6) and Russell (4). But that’s just the surface of the matter. A deeper look reveals just how influential a Lakers championship would be in comparison to one with the Heat or Cavaliers.

Cleveland and Miami are both well short of the marquee status held by the basketball stars of Tinseltown. Historically, the Laker fan base commands the Los Angeles sporting scene and the NBA as a whole. Moreover, this is a team that counts Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington, Doris Day and Leonardo DiCaprio as their courtside fans. It’s a high demand ticket with high expectations.

LeBron James age 34 is pointing the way forward for his Los Angeles Lakers
SOURCE: The Sporting News

As a result, the Lakers are also a franchise that commands star power, often in multiples of two.

  • Elgin Baylor and Jerry West in the 1960s (perennial title contenders).
  • West and Wilt Chamberlain in the 1970s (1 NBA Championship).
  • The aforementioned Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson in the 1980s (5 NBA Championships).
  • Shaquille O’Neal and young Kobe Bryant in the early 2000s (three NBA titles).
  • Older Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in the late 2000s (two titles).
  • Now, James and Davis (yet to be determined).

The Laker demands

Effectively, this winning legacy demands multiple titles of both James and the prodigious Davis. It comes not a moment too soon, either: the franchise has been through a myriad of struggles over the last five years.

Struggles they’ve not come anywhere near since their move out of Minnesota in 1960.

  • There’s the aforementioned title drought.
  • The Lakers are also stuck in an ownership mess that would make Succession fans say “Too convoluted.”
  • Team management went through the dizzying and confusing resignation of Magic Johnson as its general manager this summer.

Sadly, James first go-round with the Lakers was hardly inspiring. In many ways, the 2018-19 season was a low point for the franchise.

  • James effectively muscled out then-head coach Luke Walton.
  • He and his consulting firm lobbied hard to acquire Davis from New Orleans during a lost 2018-19 season.
  • In the end, the Lakers finished with another sub-.500 record at 37-45. It marked the fifth straight year the Lakers missed the NBA playoffs.

Refuel for another championship run

But given the strong early-season run from year’s team, Lakerland is flying. It’s one argument in James favour. Missing the playoffs last year gave James the rest he hadn’t experienced for nine seasons. With deep playoff runs into June, the fall in 2018-19 allowed LeBron to recharge his batteries. At age 34, that’s no small benefit.

Plus, the plan in Los Angeles was for 2019-20 and beyond. NBA salary cap concerns hindered the Lakers to add much more than just James in 2018. As a result, significant additions would have come with severe penalties attached. Now, James and guard Kyle Kuzma are bolstered by the addition of a new, focused supporting cast in:

  • Davis, a regular MVP candidate.
  • JaVale McGee, a defensive stalwart.
  • Dwight Howard, who’s playing inspired basketball in years.
  • Head coach Frank Vogel, who has a winning pedigree from his time in Indiana.

Seemingly, the long offseason and long-term planning may have paved the way for another long playoff run for the Lakers. Perhaps more, even.

Thus far, James has held up his end of the bargain. Though his scoring and rebounds have fallen, the added help has made up for those deficits. Moreover, James is currently leading the NBA in assists with 10.9 per game. Optimising the assets around him, the Lakers are thriving and getting stops on defence in part due to LeBron’s leadership capabilities.

It has the makings of the Lakers being a team no one wants to face when the playoffs start. So what will this next chapter in the career of LeBron James hold? Are we witnesses to a new age of King James reign? Can he gain another title…or more?

[contact-form-7 id="114190"]