In November 11, 2016, LeBron James became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 27,000 career points. A few days before that, on November 5, James surpassed former Houston Rockets star and NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon to break into the Top-10 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Fast forward to December 9 and James went past Elvin Hayes for ninth spot on the all-time scoring list. James also recorded his 7,000th assist in a win against the Charlotte Hornets on December 10, making him the only player in NBA history to record 27000 career points, 7000 assists and 7000 rebounds. Talk about exclusivity!
James is a few days shy of turning 32 on December 30. Considering that Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett retired only recently, at the age of 40, James still has a long career ahead of him. Even if one is to compare James to Kobe Bryant, who called it quits at the age of 37, at the end of the 2015-16 NBA season, it will take at least half a decade before Father Time casts his gaze towards James. And in that time span, between now and that solemn day when James finally calls time on his professional basketball career, he could well lay claim to being the greatest ever to play the game.
A few years ago, the eminent basketball journalist and writer, David Aldridge, called James ‘sui generis’ , but it is only now that the full impact of Aldridge’s assessment of James can be understood. Three NBA rings in five years. Six consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. James has already moved into 23rd spot on the all-time career steals’ tally and ranks within the Top-20 on the all-time career assists’ (16th) list. His performance in the 2016 NBA Finals, where he finished MVP, inspired Cavaliers to overcome a 1-3 deficit to beat the 73-9 Golden State Warriors, and helped Cleveland win their first pro sports championship in 52 years, is exactly the stuff sporting legends are made of.
Appreciation for James’ outstanding play in those Finals came from no less than outgoing US President Barack Obama, who, while hosting the Cavaliers at the White House on November 10, said, “And when you see LeBron James, it is not just his power and his speed and his vertical. It is his unselfishness, it is his work ethic, it is his insistence on always making the right play, it is his determination —all of which makes him one of the great players of all time. And you saw it in those last three games (2016 Finals), put up some of the most staggering statistics in Finals history. He did it the year before (2015 Finals) despite injuries, dragging his team along to make a very competitive series. You saw it when this kid from Akron broke down and fell to his knees when he realised that he had finally fulfilled a promise that he had made all those years ago and delivered that championship back to Northeast Ohio.”
For all his heroics, James was recently announced as Sports Illustrated’s 2016 Sportsperson of the Year.
It is because of James that an entire generation of NBA stars is yet to win a championship. Other superstars from the same Eastern Conference in which James has played all these years — names like Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, Paul George, Al Horford — are yet to make it to an NBA Finals because they have come up short against James. In the 2012 NBA Finals, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden couldn’t overcome James and his Miami Heat. The former Oklahoma City Thunder team-mates, now playing for three separate teams, are yet to get their arms around the Larry O’Brien trophy.
James’ success has parallels with Michael Jordan, arguably, the greatest ever to have played the game. Jordan’s six rings in the 1990s meant that the likes of Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Reggie Miller, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing never won an NBA championship. None of these players could get the better of Jordan and his Chicago Bulls in the playoffs.
And it is Jordan that James now seeks to emulate. As Sports Illustrated reported earlier this year, James responded to a question from young players at a camp in Los Angeles by admitting his motivation “is this ghost I’m chasing. The ghost played in Chicago.” Expanding on the subject, James said, “My career is totally different than Michael Jordan’s. What I’ve gone through is totally different than what he went through. What he did was unbelievable, and I watched it unfold. I looked up to him so much. I think it’s cool to put myself in position to be one of those great players, but if I can ever put myself in position to be the greatest player, that would be something extraordinary.”
Extraordinary is what James has been for some time now. We have been privileged to witness him in action!