LeBron James was seen as infallible, at 34, playing like a one man wrecking crew with no end in sight. But then came the injury that saw him miss 18 games, the longest stretch in his career.
Can we take a second’s pause though, to appreciate the fact that a man who has been playing the sport for 2 decades at the highest possible level, had never missed more than one month of basketball due to injury.
Once LeBron went down with the injury, its as if he finally realized he was maybe a bit mortal.
He said himself that the injury being the longest of his career was toughest for him as he sat on the sidelines and watched the Lakers, who were in a strong 5th position when the injury happened, fumble their way through to a 6-12 record without him and fall to the 10th position in the Western Conference.
A timeline of Scottie Pippen’s Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James takes pic.twitter.com/dtOCn5ajVR
— For The Win (@ForTheWin) February 15, 2019
This is one of the stories you just don’t want to miss. I don’t keep praising him very often so when I do you know it’s worthy of your attention https://t.co/aKA9pp5OFU
— Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (@kaj33) February 14, 2019
It was maybe this scare that made LeBron get involved in the GOAT discussion that generally he has avoided discussing.
It was the fact that this may be the end of his peak and there might be no more titles in the future that prompted him to speak out and attempt to cement his legacy.
“That one right there made me the greatest player of all time,” James said on ESPN’s “More Than An Athlete” series about a career that is now in its 16th season.
“That’s what I felt. I was super, super ecstatic to win one for Cleveland because of the 52-year drought. Like, I was ecstatic. That day, the first wave of emotion was, everyone saw me crying, that was all for 52 years of everything sports that have gone on in Cleveland.
“And after I stopped, I was like ‘That one right there made you the greatest player of all time.’
“Everybody was talking about how they [the Warriors] were the greatest team of all time. Like, they were the greatest team ever assembled, and for us to come back, the way we came back in that fashion, I was like ‘You did something special.’ That was, like, one of the only times in my career I felt like ‘Oh s—, you did something special.’ I haven’t really had time to really sit back and think, but that, that was a moment.”
If you look at LeBron’s longevity and his production at the age of 34, there are hardly any comparisons. There is one comparison still possible though. If you look back far enough you will find Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had himself a career that scarce few can even dare to dream of. The major records still held by Kareem, decades after he stopped playing include –
- All-Time NBA Leading Scorer with 38,387 points
- League Record 6 time MVP
- 19 NBA All-Star Selections
- 15 time All-NBA elect (1st or 2nd team)
- 3rd All time Rebounds
- 3rd All time Registered Blocks*
*It was only in 1974 that the league started to track blocked shots meaning the blocks through the first 4 seasons of Kareem haven’t been included, despite which he ranks 3rd all time.
Before Michael Jordan came into the NBA and globalized the sport of basketball, Kareem was considered the GOAT. Few years down the line, maybe we will speak of Jordan the way we speak about Kareem today.
Time waits for no one and looking at the current greats in comparison to the past players often creates a bias. Watching LeBron throw down a windmill dunk today cant be compared to the memory of Jordan hitting a mid range fadeaway from a couple of decades ago.
It’s just not the same. It is why the GOAT debate is impossible to resolve. Even people who watch players from different generations play find it impossible to compare performances given how much the league changes and how different the playing situations are every decade.
Ask the players of Kareem’s generation and they will tell you his skyhook was the most unstoppable move ever seen. Ask Jordan and Kobe’s generation and they will say the turnaround fadeaway was the most lethal offensive weapon ever seen.
Ask the current crop and they will talk about the multi-dimensional Swiss knife approach of LeBron is the greatest asset ever seen on the court. Generations change and with them, so do the GOAT debate contenders. Its a discussion as pointless as a defender in the path of a LeBron at full steam.
Kareem in his column for the Newsweek pointed to the same. He says we should not talk about the greatest of all time. But rather we should appreciate the hero that LeBron James is.
He is a kid from Akron who dared to dream big. He is the man who couldn’t hold back tears after winning his State its first major title in 52 years. He is the man who refused to accept the confines of being just an athlete. He is the man who opened the I Promise school to make a genuine difference the lives of thousands of young kids.
“LeBron’s sheer athleticism motivates young players to reach for a high standard of physical preparedness. His physical dominance isn’t just genetic luck; he is dedicated and disciplined in his workout and diet, often rising at 5 a.m. to begin exercising, which he does five days a week off-season, and seven days a week during the season.” Kareem wrote.
“His routine includes everything from a step-climber, spin classes, Pilates and weights to hot tubs, cold tubs and a liquid nitrogen chamber. Just reading about his relentless routine makes me want to drop and pump out 50 pushups.
“To laud anyone as a cultural hero, that person would also have to embody as well as promote some of the core values of that culture. LeBron has done that through his outspoken political and social advocacy, especially in support of racial equality.
“But beyond just talking, he has taken positive actions to better the community and country.
“This was demonstrated when Fox News’ Laura Ingraham famously reacted to an ESPN interview with LeBron in which he discussed, among many other topics, politics, by complaining, “It’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball. Keep the political comments to yourselves. … Shut up and dribble.
“Instead of just engaging in a social media war, he turned her lame insult into a three-part documentary series for Showtime called Shut Up and Dribble, which explores the evolving role of athletes in today’s divisive political climate. Over the years, LeBron has added his voice to the many athletes of conscience who wish to call attention to social injustices in order to eradicate them.” he added.
Does that make him the Greatest Of All Time? Its impossible to judge. But it does make him a living hero inside and outside the world of Basketball.
And we should be happy to bear witness to it, without getting embroiled in the talk of whether he is the greatest player to ever step foot on the NBA court.