James is 33 years old. To put that in perspective, Magic Johnson retired at 32 (with a couple of short comeback attempts afterward). Charlie Parker died at 34. Mozart kicked it at 35. Even Jesus was nailed to a cross around his 33rd birthday. Greatness doesn’t tend to last on this planet. And perhaps none of those greats have had the same amount of wear and tear on their body that James has had (although Bird’s coroner’s report estimated him to be around 60 years old).
See also Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car”: “He says his body’s too old for working / I say his body’s too young to look like his.”
He’s played in the NBA for 15 seasons. His teams made the playoffs thirteen of those seasons, adding 239 games to his body. He’s also played in the Olympics three times, played in the World Championships, Pan Am Games, etc. He’s played enough basketball to last multiple lifetimes for most pros.
So when he decided to sign with the Lakers over the weekend, I don’t think that it had much to do with basketball. The Lakers were 35-47 last season with a roster of talent that was the sixth youngest in the league and included future stars like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma. Adding James to that mix is compelling, to be certain, and might improve the team by as much as 10 wins for next season. Unfortunately, that doesn’t even make the playoffs in the West. But let’s say he improves the team by 15 wins, which would be extraordinary and nearly unprecedented for one player to make such an impact. Well, they’re still no better than the third best team in the conference, and the new version of the Lake Show would be approximately even with such squads as Portland, Utah, Oklahoma City, and New Orleans. The chances of James winning a championship in LA seem remote, at best.
In other news, Kyle Kuzma is a future star.
But yeah, 50-32 gets you maybe a third seed in the West. (The Trail Blazers, third-seeded in the 2018 playoffs, were 49-33.) Still, weirder things have happened: Oklahoma City, in its inaugural year, went 23-59; the next year they were, yes, 50-32. And lost to the Lakers in the playoffs.)
Putting James on the [Houston] Rockets makes them a potentially all-time great team. But he didn’t go there. He chose a young team that is a couple of years away from competing, and if these last two years showed us anything, it’s that James can’t win a title by himself — at least not while the Golden State Warriors are constructed as they currently are.
Therefore, it’s fairly obvious that James didn’t go to LA to win championships. He went there for life after basketball, plain and simple. James wants to build a business empire — some combination of entertainment, athletic wear, maybe restaurants. Who knows? You can’t do that in Cleveland—or, at least, not as easily. But by putting yourself on display 41 nights a year at the Staples Center, you bet you can. And when his contract expires, and James is 37 years old, he’ll be ready to enter that next phase of this life. And who better to teach him how to do that than his new boss, Earvin “Magic” Johnson?