MIAMI — On the stage where he played the best basketball of his career, LeBron James was asked to look to the future and share how long he plans to play in the NBA.
“I don’t have a number,” James said after Wednesday’s 112-98 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers when asked how many more seasons he had left for his former team, the Miami Heat. “I know I can play at this level for a minute as long as my mind is in it. Now that’s just in my mind. My body will be fine because if my mind is in it, I’ll make sure mine. The body will take care of itself and I’ll get on with the job.”
It was another strong night for the 20-year veteran, leading the Lakers in points (27), rebounds (9) and assists (6). But LA lost for the ninth time in their last 13 games, dropping to 14-21 on the season and placing the Lakers in 13th place out of 15 teams in the Western Conference.
While James said his mental approach will ultimately determine how long it will last after two years, with $97 million remaining on his contract with the Lakers (with a player option in the second year), this approach is highly correlated with team performance.
Winning is the true fountain of youth, James reckons.
“I’m a winner and I want to win,” James said. “And I want to win and give myself a chance to win and still compete for championships. That’s always been my goal, ever since I came into the league as an 18-year-old kid from Akron, Ohio. .
“And I know it’s going to take steps to get there, but if you get there and know how to get there, it’s not in my DNA to just play basketball at this level. It’s not in my DNA. So, we’ll see what’s going to happen and the next two years.” I see how fresh my mind will be inside. “
James’ time with the Lakers was the toughest of the three franchises he played for. In Cleveland, he won Rookie of the Year, two MVPs, made five trips to the NBA Finals and won a championship and Finals MVP. In Miami, there were two more MVPs, four trips to the Finals, two championships and two Finals MVPs.
As a member of the Purple and Gold, he became the first player in league history to win the Finals MVP with three different teams, earning the honor in the Lakers’ 2020 Finals victory over the Heat in Florida. They made the playoffs twice and their only first-round playoff loss.
Not to mention the forwards’ struggles this season.
As James’ longtime subject naturally turns 38 on Friday, his decision to answer the question the way he did may be an attempt to put pressure on the Lakers’ front office. Competitive list.
Since Lakers big man Anthony Davis was sidelined two weeks ago with a strained right foot, James has made subtle comments about L.A.’s woes — whether he’s praising the Sacramento Kings’ roster construction in Domantas Sabinis and D Aaron Fox or rhetorically asking after a Christmas Day loss to the Dallas Mavericks, How many times do you try to dig? [of a losing hole] Until it gets so dirty on you?”
Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka announced at the team’s annual media day in September that it was his duty to build a competitive team around James.
“Let me be very clear, we have one of the greatest players to play the game in LeBron James, and he’s committed to us with a long-term contract, a three-year contract. So we’re going to do everything. It could include picks to make deals to give LeBron a chance to get to the playoffs,” Pelinka said. “He made a commitment to our organization. That has to be a bipartisan commitment, and it’s there.”
James reinvented the idea of how long a player would last in the league. This season, in his two-decade career, his 27.8 points-per-game average ranks ninth in the NBA, and his 35.8 minutes per game ranks 19th.
“He’s a fierce, fierce competitor,” Lakers coach Darwin Hamm said after the loss to Miami. “The team, we’re going through our ups and downs right now. We’re on the wrong side of the win column. So he’s not going to let himself get out of the mix. He’s doing a great job. To be able to present himself and produce physically at the highest level I’ve ever seen.
In a recent interview with German journalist Maximilian Haupt, James’ teammate Dennis Schröder — speaking in his native tongue — told the Lakers star that he hopes to play another seven years until he turns 45.
That number may not have been plucked out of thin air. James has long admired Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, who is still playing in the NFL at age 45 and is winning a record seventh Super Bowl at age 43.
Schroder told ESPN that James will reach his goal because “the NBA wants him” and because he hopes it would be special if James had the chance to play in the league with one or both of his sons.
James, with a hint of wonder in his voice, says he has a lot on his mind as he prepares to blow out the candles on his birthday cake this year.
“I wonder how long I’ll play the game,” James said. “I think I don’t want to end my career playing at this level in terms of the team. I can still compete for championships because I know what I can bring to a football club with the right parts.
“I think about my son graduating high school soon, going to college and still playing. My youngest son will be a junior next year – how much more time do I miss. So during the day, for weeks, for months, I think about everything a little bit. You know?