LeBron James is right up there with the likes of fellow GOATs Tom Brady, George Clooney and Beyoncé when it comes to ageless genetic freaks.
James has avoided the effects of ageing so well he should probably feature in those “DOCTORS HATE HIM” ads/memes (He’s 60 years old but looks like 30! Here’s how he did it with one weird trick!).
But even LeBron is mortal, even if it didn’t always seem that way. Over his first 15 seasons, James played in 94 percent of all possible regular season games, a truly staggering feat of endurance.
Since then, he has appeared in 74 percent of games. That’s still a healthy number and one that some players can only dream of. But it’s a decline nonetheless.
After getting through his first 15 years with barely a scratch, James has suffered two major injuries over the past three seasons, missing 20 games with a groin strain in 2018-19 and 27 games with a high ankle sprain last season.
Normally, that might not be such a big deal. But this was a man who never got hurt. Those injuries were the first ever signs that he wasn’t invincible. For the 36-year-old James, all those miles finally started to take a toll. He was no longer a sure thing to be healthy every single night.
Combine that with his minutes and scoring decreasing over each of the past four seasons, and it’s interesting to consider what all this means for LeBron surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time scoring list.
While James would clinch the record 39 games into the 2022-23 season if he maintained last season’s scoring output and didn’t miss a game, here are some more likely ways things could play out:
IF LEBRON CONTINUES HIS RECENT PRODUCTION
Between now and the season LeBron suffered his first major injury, he is averaging 25.9 points while playing in 74 percent of all possible games. If he were to maintain that for the foreseeable future, he would break Kareem’s record in his 56th game of the 2022-23 season, his last contracted year with the Lakers.
If James continued his scoring production and proportion of games played from 2019-2020 onwards, the first Lakers season in which he had a superstar teammate to lighten the load, he would surpass Kareem in his 60th game of the 2022-23 season.
And considering LeBron has played in 74 percent of games since arriving in LA, his 60th game projects to be his last game of the season.
If James played or scores even slightly less than he has on average since joining the Lakers, he would have to wait until the beginning of the 2023-24 season to become the all-time leading scorer.
IF LEBRON DIALS BACK HIS MINUTES
Entering his 19th season, and with a huge amount of veteran help around him, James may decide it’s finally time to significantly dial back his playing time in the regular season going forward. His minutes have decreased every year for the past five years, but only slightly.
Let’s say James decides to reel it in to about 30 minutes per game, having played 33.4 minutes per game last season.
If he suits up for the same proportion of available games that he’s played since becoming a Laker, while scoring at the same rate per minute, he would break Kareem’s record in his 16th game of the 2023-24 season.
By that stage, James would be in his 21st season and approaching his 39th birthday. Of course, an injury beyond anything he’s suffered already would delay things further.
But even if things don’t go exactly to plan, there’s little doubt LeBron will get there eventually. The only thing worth doubting is whether anyone will ever catch him.