LeBron James has been the face of the league for so long that an entire generation of fans has never watched the NBA without him participating in it. He’s had a legendary 20-year career and has won every accolade on both the national and international level. As a four-time champion, he’s certainly earned the respect of everyone around the league, and has shown that even at the age of 38, he’s still great at basketball.
However, this may finally be the season that we’re witnessing his decline. After Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, James finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and 12 assists on 8 of 19 shooting, but he looked gassed at the end of the game. After spending two decades carrying his teams, it actually looks like the King may finally be feeling tired.
That’s not a knock on James, though. To play basketball at an elite level, for as long as he’s done, is unprecedented. His most recent contemporaries to hit that 20-year mark were Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki, and neither of those guys were leading their teams on deep playoff runs at the twilight of their careers. Sure, Kobe summoned his powers one last time in his final game to drop 60 points while leading his team to a meaningless victory over the Utah Jazz, but he was no longer the same after his Achilles heel injury. At the end of his run, Nowitzki was basically just mentoring Luka Doncic.
But all good things must come to an end. James is now facing a 0-3 deficit in the Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets and it looks like he’s finally come to the point where he can no longer carry a motley crew to the promised land. With that being said, James is also still blazing a trail and leaving his mark on the league.
Even during this playoff run, James managed to dethrone the reigning champs. He had a vintage game in the series-ending victory against the Golden State Warriors as well, leading the Lakers with 30 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, two steals and a block with just two turnovers in a 122-101 blowout that may have closed the window on the Warriors dynasty.
That’s why it’s strange to think that James has finally reached the end of his run, but it’s still something that we have to start to accept. Pitted against a well-balanced offense that is led by a generational talent in Nikola Jokic, it feels like James has finally reached the end of the line in terms of being able to carry a team.
It would be foolish to think that he’s completely done, but Father Time may have finally caught up to James. After so many legendary performances in the playoffs, this may finally be the moment where even he acknowledges that age has caught up. If the Lakers lose Game 4, it will be just the third time in his career that he’s been swept in the playoffs. The first time it happened was in 2007, when he single-handedly carried the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals but lost to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli. The second time was against the Warriors in 2018, where they had an unstoppable team that had Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Should the sweep happen against the Nuggets, it would actually be the least-talented team that’s ever done it to him. After two decades, that’s a testament to James’ staying power.