Granderson: LeBron James is the aging icon we all needed


I remember the day I stopped playing basketball.

It wasn’t easy.

It also wasn’t my decision. The 20-something-year-old who was giving me that work made the decision for me.

When my 50-year-old self finally scored a basket on him, one of my teammates yelled, “get him old school.” At first, I had no idea who he was talking to. I had been playing basketball for 40 years, and no one had ever referred to me as “old school.” Then that kid scored on me again. And then again.

So anyway, that was my last game. I don’t even belong to that gym anymore. I didn’t want to constantly see the site of my demise.

I’m sure there are plenty of gym rats out there who know the feeling. Maybe you get to shoot a couple of hoops with your kids, but that’s about it. Which brings me to this: Right now NBA teams are debating whether to draft an 18-year-old with the hope of getting his 39-year-old father to join him.

And not for nostalgia.

Forget the “LeBron James versus Michael Jordan” debate. James’ battle with Father Time is far more compelling and relatable. This week James was named to his 20th All-NBA team. That means James has been considered among the 15 best players in the world for Bronny James’ entire life. He also holds the record for being both the youngest and the oldest player to make that list.

In many ways it’s a disservice to reduce James’ career to a debate about whether he’s the GOAT. Sure, there are numbers to support the Jordan case or the James argument. Either player could be the greatest to ever pick up a basketball.

But the number that I’m looking at is overlooked: six. That’s the minimum number of presidential terms that will cycle through the White House while James is a top player in the world’s best basketball league. This is astounding.

The simple fact that sports media have been debating “Jordan versus LeBron” for more than a decade is an affront to the concept of time.

Grant Hill.

Vince Carter.

Kobe.

Penny Hardaway.

Harold Miner Jr.

The industry started christening “the next Jordan” quickly and often. And understandably so. How could we not want to see a clone of the greatest player we had ever seen? But while sports media moved on from some of the earlier candidates, we continue to be fascinated with James. So much so that it really wasn’t until this year — with Anthony Edwards in Minnesota — that there was even a substantive newcomer to consider since James started winning championships.

The Jordan comparisons were tossed around a lot less lightly after James came on the scene. Even now, when he’s 39 years old and his son is preparing to enter the league, he’s still the player most often compared to Jordan. The constant juxtaposition of these two figures and the focus on James’ stats has overshadowed the most remarkable aspect of his career: his longevity.

Rafael Nadal, who won his first French Open in 2005, is saying goodbye to the game after a record-breaking career. Meanwhile James, who was named All-NBA in 2005, is still expected to lead a team to a championship at least once more. No other player in the history of the game has had that kind of expectation to carry for two decades. We’ve been so busy yelling about which player is better that we didn’t notice … we’ve been having this same debate about this same player for a really long time.

In addition to being named to his 20th All-NBA team, this season James became the first player to be named an All-Star starter for the 20th time. One more than Kareem, two more than Kobe, five more than Shaq. And remarkably he’s still going. Of course, eventually Father Time will win this battle.

He is undefeated, after all.

But as a gym rat who was forced into retirement by some punk with a crossover, I’m still rooting for the underdog to last as long as possible.

@LZGranderson





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