Typically, players don’t get healthier as they age.
But as we’ve been reminded, time and time again, LeBron James is far from typical.
On Wednesday night, with the top-seeded Toronto Raptors paying his Cleveland Cavaliers a visit, the idea leading into the game was that the Raptors—buoyed by the contributions of a supporting cast that’ll give Dwane Casey’s team what they’ve been missing—are ready to contend with James.
Instead, they ended up watching the throne, just as the rest of the Eastern Conference has for the past seven years.
When it was all said and done, James had turned in a game that was the first of its kind in NBA history—35 points, 17 assists, seven rebounds, zero turnovers. He also shot 11-for-19 from the field. Until he had done so against the Raptors, no player in NBA history had ever scored 35 points and dished out 15 assists without turning the ball over.
Incredibly, even as James inches toward 1,200 career games and his 34th birthday, it’s fair to say that he’s the best player he’s even been. His efficiency is off the charts, his range has become more consistent and, now more than ever, he’s overcome adversity to have his team in position to win the Eastern Conference for a mind-numbing eighth consecutive year.
What’s most impressive about James and his 2017-18 campaign, however, is that among the best players in the league, he’s already the last man standing.
There’s something that Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and pretty much every other NBA superstar has in common with one another—everyone’s missed at least one game.
Entering play on March 25, James is 72 for 72.
On a personal level, I’ve had a front row seat to James’ career. From his being drafted in Madison Square Garden back in 2003 to each one of his championship runs, I’ve covered it and have had a front row seat.
During the 2017 NBA Finals, his growth, maturity and intelligence were never on better display than when he quoted Theodore Roosevelt in response to a question posed to him.
I’ve been saying it for a few years, and this past season, others in the media have finally begun to catch on.
LeBron James is coming for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Without help from Ms. Cleo, obviously, the proclamation is more a hope than it is a guarantee.
Entering play this season, James needed 9,571 points to surpass Kareem, and even after scoring 1,972 points through the first 72 games of the season, he’ll still enter play on March 25 trailing Kareem by 7,599 points. Still, unless something catastrophic happens, LeBron will score 2,000 this season and will accomplish the feat for the first time since he returned to Cleveland. The last time he scored as many as 2,000 points in a single season was his final campaign in Miami.
Consider this: entering play this season, his 15th, James had played a grand total of 93.7 percent of the games over the first 14 years of his career. By virtue of playing all 72 of his eligible games this season, LeBron’s career games played percentage has increased to 94.1.
By the time the season is over, James will have somewhere in the neighborhood of 31,000 career points.
About 7,400 points behind Kareem, if James were able to score 25 points per game from here on out, he’d need slightly less than four more seasons to eclipse the NBA’s all-time scoring leader.
Sure, it still seems a long way off, but James has already taken us places we’ve never been. And if nothing else, he’s already proven to be the most durable player a generation has ever seen.
Best bet, the chase for Kareem is his quiet motivation.
* * * * * *
As the Cavaliers get set to enter yet another postseason with an opportunity to win the Eastern Conference again, from Matthew Dellavedova to Timofey Mozgov to Iman Shumpert, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving, LeBron has been the only constant.
Night in, night out, he laces up his sneakers.
And as the other contenders have each dealt with injury issues and questions concerning their durability, he continues to be the epitome of resilience.
In more ways than one, James continues to be the standard. On Wednesday night in Cleveland, he gave the Raptors a not so subtle reminder of that fact.
Sure, it may have been just another regular season game in March. And yes, the NBA Championship won’t be won until June. But make no mistake of it, James continues to be what every other superstar in the NBA aspires to.
At the end of the day, LeBron was the last man standing, and we’d better get used to it.
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