How Lebron James’ Durability Factors into the G.O.A.T Discussion

The G.O.A.T conversation is one that is seemingly ongoing and never ending. Many people throw around names such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and of course, Lebron James. Fortunately for us, we are still able to watch one of those players in Lebron James, who appears to be playing the final years of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers, giving the sports world more chances to evaluate his play and further analyze his spot in the G.O.A.T. conversation. Lebron James’ body of work is still being added to with each pass he dishes to his teammates, each rim rattling dunk that electrifies the crowd, and each chase down block in close games to rally his team.


One aspect that doesn’t receive heavy attention in the G.O.A.T conversation is durability. Coaches always tell their players that they need to find that next gear, that extra ounce of heart, the strength to push yourself past what you believe is the breaking point. Lebron James’ durability is an interesting talking point because it seems to have at the very least stayed constant since his rookie year, if not improved. King James always seems to have that extra ounce of energy to make that last push when his team needs him to keep going. At 34, Lebron has shown no distinctive signs of slowing down, and could be more motivated than ever to pursue another championship with his new Laker lineup that has received a much needed overhaul and added some crucial depth heading into the 2019 season. 


The first example that comes to mind when thinking of James’ phenomenal durability is the 2018 finals series that featured the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. Per basketball-reference.com (https://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/2018-nba-finals-cavaliers-vs-warriors.html) Lebron James logged 179 minutes in the 4 game series that saw the Warriors sweep the Cavaliers. While the Finals are the most important part of the NBA postseason, let’s take winning out of the conversation and focus on just how much Lebron was playing in that series. 179 minutes played out of a possible 192 minutes. That meant that Lebron only checked out of the game and rested for a TOTAL of 13 minutes for the entirety of the 2018 NBA Finals. That averages out to 3.25 minutes of rest per game over that stretch. When looking at the rest of the Cavaliers’ roster, the player with the next most minutes logged behind James was Power Forward Kevin Love with 133 total minutes. During the 2018 Finals series, James averaged 44.75 minutes per game. The only other time Lebron played at that clip came during his second year in the league in 2004, where he averaged 42.4 minutes per contest. That was when he was only Twenty years old. In 2018 he was thirty two years old and appeared to have more hop in his step than he did twelve years prior. 


Compared to the regular season, he averaged a respectable 36.9 minutes per game. James was incredibly limited in his rest, and still produced very strong numbers. While playing what appeared to be the entire game throughout the series, James recorded absurd averages that nearly amounted to a triple double every game He averaged 34 PPG, 8.5 RBG, and 10 APG. It’s no secret James was the Cavaliers’ best weapon, and he gave them everything he had in the tank for that Finals series as he continues to today for the Lakers of Los Angeles. The Finals performance was one of the most remarkable by any player in recent memory, much less anyone on a team that ultimately didn’t go on to hoist the trophy that year. On the Warriors’ side of things, Kevin Durant logged 165 minutes in that series, followed by Stephen Curry with 162 minutes.  In the interest of comparisons, Michael Jordan’s most recent NBA Finals appearance in 1998 (https://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/1998-nba-finals-bulls-vs-jazz.html) saw him play 250 minutes of a possible 288 minutes, which averages out to 6.3 minutes of rest per each of the 6 games in the series versus the Utah Jazz. 


While James looks superhuman on the outside to the average basketball fan, there is a tremendous amount of work that goes on behind the scenes. The 2015 season saw Lebron experience major issues with two discs in his back, which required him to get two anti-inflammatory injections over a ten month span. During his most recent stint with his hometown Cavaliers, he worked closely with former Navy Seal, biochemist Donnie Raimon. What was needed to get the superstar back to his normal playing condition is covered at length in a story by ESPN Senior Writer Brian Windhorst (https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/22778062/how-lebron-james-fixed-back-track-play-all-82-games-nba). The process of getting into top shape is one thing: innumerable hours in the gym slamming medicine balls, wracking barbells after hard sets, and yelling out at the top of your lungs after completing a workout. However, maintaining the body that Lebron has built for himself to allow jaw dropping performances at age 34 is an entirely separate feat in it of itself.It is also one that is far from cheap. One CBS report (https://cleveland.cbslocal.com/2016/11/15/lebron-james-spends-about-1-5-million-per-year-to-maintain-his-body/) published in 2016 references King James spending as much as $1.5 million over the course of one year to allow his body to attain peak performance. That $1.5 million went towards multiple trainers, building a home gym to allow around the clock workouts, paying for chefs to cook him gourmet meals packed with protein, as well as a concerted recovery plan that helps minimize the toll that playing the game of basketball takes on his 6’8” 250 pound frame. For the thousands of minutes that he has invested into the game of basketball (more than 42,000 in fact), he has invested a lot of time, energy, and resources back into his own body. Taking a deeper look at his durability and everything that goes into preparing him to achieve at his best reveals that it shouldn't be a surprise Lebron is a modern day Superman. 


That Superman burst onto the NBA scene in 2003 at just nineteen years old, making the jump straight from high school to playing basketball at the highest level. His body was more than ready for the transition, as he measured in at 6’8” 240 pounds as a rookie and was essentially a teenager competing against grown men the likes of Shaquille O’neal and MVP Kevin Garnett en route to earning the 2003-2004 Rookie of the Year Award. James’ Durability was on display early in his career, as he missed no more than four games over the course of the first four years of his career, all while averaging forty minutes played per contest. That durability carried on, as he’s proved to be a mighty adversary to the injury bug.


As stated earlier, the 2017-2018 season was special for James’ durability, as he logged unreal minutes during the Finals series. His durability is also a talking point in another regard, as he managed to play all eighty two regular season games for the first time in his career. Not only did James receive very little rest in the 2018 finals series, but he has been an incredibly reliable player and teammate over the course of his sixteen year career, missing very little time due to injury. Of the total 1198 games he has played, his longest spree of missing games came this past year, as he exited the highly anticipated showdown with the Golden State Warriors with a groin injury, a game the Lakers would go on to run away with, winning 127-101 in Oakland. After that game Lakers Point Guard Rajon Rondo was quoted saying, “I’ve never seen him hurt, I was a little shocked.” Rondo saying that only begins to expound on just how reliable Lebron James has been during his playing days, as he had played 94% of his career games at the time of that injury. The injury proved to be the most significant of his career, as he went on to miss seventeen games while recovering from the groin strain. Prior to this injury, James had played a staggering one hundred and fifty straight regular and postseason games without missing any time. Taking a look back at his injury history, the most time he had missed due to injury at any point came during the 2014-2015 season with the Cavaliers, which saw him ride the pine for eight games due to a sore left knee. Other than that? Lebron had two short breaks in which he missed three games with an ankle sprain, a strained right hamstring, and a five game hiatus due to a sprained index finger in 2007. 


What may come as even more of a shock to the basketball world, is his ridiculous level of production has endured over the course of his sixteen year career. Dating back to his rookie season in 2003, James averaged 20.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 5.9 APG. Fast forward a little bit and arguably his best statistical year came in 2007 when he averaged 30 PPG, 7.9 RPG, and 7.2 APG. With any athlete, you’d expect their rookie year to serve as a benchmark of sorts, hoping to improve from that point, followed by a dropoff, as a combination of age and wear and tear takes its toll on the body. Well, twelve years later, and it’s not crazy to argue that LeGoat is still in his prime, a term which Dictionary.com defines as “the most flourishing stage or state.” Despite missing seventeen of eighty two games last season, he recorded 27.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, and 8.3 APG, marks that even exceed his best years. The play of the Lakers Forward is comparable to fine wine, only getting better with age. At 34 years old, James has shown very little signs of slowing down. What’s more, on top of his ability to continue his great play and maintain his health over the years, James has demonstrated one of the most diverse skill sets the game has ever seen, possessing the ability to play and guard positions one through five on the court. However, that is an entirely different conversation. 


James’ Lakers made headlines throughout the drama filled NBA offseason, adding names such as DeMarcus Cousins, Avery Bradley, and Anthony Davis. The stars look to be assembled throughout Los Angeles, both on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and on South Figueroa street at the Staples Center. After years of abysmal play in which the Lakers have missed the postseason for the past eleven years, their last appearance came in 2007 as a seventh seed in the Western Conference. While the Lakers might have missed out on signing their potential hometown hero in Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, they have what may be their most solid starting five in recent years, topped off with quality depth and role players from top to bottom. The 2019 season figures to be one that will have one of the iconic basketball teams in the history of the sport equipped to contend for a title against a completely revamped NBA.