LeBron Stands Alone
Here are the highest point-per-game seasons for NBA players 35 years or older:
LeBron James, 30.3 ppg (age 37)
LeBron James, 30.2 ppg (age 38 — in progress)
Alex English, 26.5 ppg (age 35)
Karl Malone, 24.4 ppg (age 36)
LeBron James, 25.3 ppg (age 35)
LeBron James, 25.0 ppg (age 36)
I’ve been thinking about how players age better in sports than ever before. Roger Federer was the first player in the Open Era to be No. 1 in the world after age 35, and now Novak Djokovic is 35 and the best in the world by a seemingly wide margin.
Tom Brady won the MVP at 40 and almost won it again at 44. Aaron Rodgers won back-to-back MVPs at age 37 and 38. Peyton Manning put up what might be the greatest statistical season ever for a quarterback when he was 37.
We don’t talk about Barry, no no no, but after age 35 he hit .322/.517/.724 with 317 home runs and a 221 OPS+. We don’t talk about Clemens, either, but after age 35 he went 141-66 with a 133 ERA+ and won four Cy Young Awards.
Hockey has a long history of great players playing well into their 40s — Gordie Howe, Jaromír Jágr, Mark Messier and so on — still, last year, Alex Ovechkin became the oldest player to score 50 goals in a season; he’s still deadly from the point, and I’d say it’s now better than 50-50 that he will break Wayne Gretzky’s seemingly unbreakable goals record.
And Tuesday night, at age 38, LeBron passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and became the all-time leading scorer in NBA history with a fadeaway jump shot over Oklahoma City’s Kenrich Williams. It wasn’t quite as memorable a shot as Kareem’s record-breaking skyhook over Utah’s massive shot-blocker, Mark Eaton, but it was still glorious as LeBron held his arms high in the air and took in the enormous cheers that had been building for 20 years.
As others have pointed out — this was for LeBron and LeBron alone, a sharp contrast from the rest of his career. James has always been the team player. Barely a week ago, he passed Steve Nash on the all-time assists list. Earlier this year, he passed David Robinson on the all-time rebound list. He has carried, inspired and lifted three different franchises to NBA titles and 10 different teams to the NBA Finals.
Along the way, there were those who said he was TOO unselfish, TOO self-sacrificing, TOO charitable. They said he needed to push everybody else out of the way and take over more games, the way Michael did. But that just wasn’t LeBron. His ideal was that everybody came along for the ride. “This is for you, Cleveland!” he shouted after the Cavaliers won the city’s only championship in a half-century.
Tuesday night, though, wasn’t about anyone else.
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