For the past years, sports news organizations have used Year 17!, Year 18!, and Year 19! on every photo of LeBron James making a layup or a fastbreak dunk. His status of being the best player to ever play the game has always been up in the air which is undoubtedly why he’s one of the most talked about players in the league. Due to LeBron’s name frequently mentioned when discussing the greatest players of all time, his exceptional career has reduced his 20th season run as an ordinary deed rather than a superb feat to justify his eminence.
James as the outlier
Let’s get one thing straight. The fact that the 37-year-old James will be joining the very short list of NBA players to reach 20 years in the league is amazing. With the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, and Kobe Bryant, the King entering that tier was somewhat expected. Now, why is this feat so significant especially for a four-time NBA champion and four-time finals and season MVP?
Let’s break it down here. This is the list of players who were able to reach year 20, and beside their names are the corresponding number of regular season games they played.
Vince Carter - 22 seasons, 1541 games
Dirk Nowitzki - 21 seasons, 1522 games
Kevin Garnett - 21 seasons, 1462 games
Kevin Willis - 21 seasons, 1424 games
Robert Parish - 21 seasons, 1611 games
Jamal Crawford - 20 seasons, 1327 games
Kobe Bryant - 20 seasons, 1346 games
Kareem Abdul Jabbar - 20 seasons, 1560 games
LeBron James - 19 seasons, 1366 games
It is also important to note that Carmelo Anthony and Udonis Haslem are entering their 20th year alongside LeBron.
A topic of interest that could contribute to the GOAT talks is that NBA players seldom play in the league for 20 years, let alone lead their respective teams to the playoffs. His difference from the 2000s superstars like Nowitzki and Garnett is that he is still performing at a high level at his age.
Nowitzki was averaging about only seven points in his 20th year compared to his peak performance of 23 points per game in 2011 when he led the Dallas Mavericks to a title. Garnett was producing about 7.6 points per game in his 20th year, a very drastic change from his usual 18.8 average output a decade before.
With regards to James, it is quite historic to be entering his 20th year with an average of 30.3 points per game?exceeding his average of 27.7 points back in 2012 for his first NBA Finals appearance with the Miami Heat. His statistics—points, assists, rebounds, and steals—are a testament to his present state of perpetual prime.
Leading the Lakers
Just to scratch some heads, James is in a position to lead the Los Angeles Lakers back to the playoffs. Ahead of the 2019-20 season, the Lakers made franchise-altering moves to build a solid team around James to eventually win the 2020 NBA championship.
Kobe was the last Laker to reach Year 20 but the franchise was unable to take advantage and failed to build a contending squad in his final year in the league.
On the more fortunate flipside, James is going to lead a strong contender team in the West with the help of Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook (if he doesn’t get moved before the season starts). LA failed to make the playoffs last season but they can still increase expectations if the moves they made this offseason work in their favor.
More than numbers
It may be crazy for some to give credit to James’ prime but they should realize that it is incredible for a player to enter Year 20 and still maintain a high level of play and never have a major injury. Aside from the numbers that James is producing, his career experience and clutch game reputation are undeniable reasons why a player at his age is still an asset to the Lakers.