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.
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.