The Longevity Question: Is King James Still Among the Elite?

The NBA's Elite 100 The LeBron Enigma of 2023-24

The LeBron Enigma of 2023-24 – In sports, the narrative around the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) athletes like Tom Brady, Lionel Messi, and Novak Djokovic often sways like a pendulum, affecting everything from fan opinions to NBA free picks. This year, LeBron James finds himself in a similar spotlight but with slightly dimmed luminance, as he slips to 12th position in the annual Elite 100 NBA players ranking by CBS Sports. But before we make hasty judgments or modify our NBA free picks, let’s remember that counting a GOAT out is often a premature move.

A Career That Defies NormsThe LeBron Enigma of 2023-24

Over two decades, LeBron James has sculpted a resume that stands as a marvel in sports history. From his jaw-dropping numbers—becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer last season, surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—to capturing four NBA championships in three different cities, James is an institution unto himself. His accolades don’t stop there: he’s a four-time NBA MVP, four-time NBA Finals MVP, and is currently ranked fourth in all-time assists.

Yet, a majority of these monumental achievements came when LeBron was considered the best, or nearly the best, player on the court. The landscape he faces entering his 21st NBA season is entirely different, possibly the most daunting of his career.

The Inevitable Tug of Time

Father Time remains the ultimate competitor for any elite athlete. Tom Brady in the NFL, Djokovic in tennis, and Messi in soccer have all faced, or are facing, the inevitable pull of time but have managed to defy it. As LeBron James enters this challenging phase, he will be vying to defy the gravitational pull of age while pushing for another championship title. With increased susceptibility to injuries and a decrease in his ability to singularly control the game’s tempo, the question that looms large is: Can LeBron still win another ring?

Falling Ranks, Rising Doubts

CBS Sports’ recent rankings mirror a subtle but significant shift in perception. While LeBron James finds himself behind the likes of Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, and Joel Embiid, among others, it doesn’t necessarily signify an end to his prowess. Interestingly, this downward shift began last season, making it the first time that LeBron had a noticeable dip in his preseason ranking. In his five seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, he started off as the 7th ranked player last year, down from 2nd in the 2021-22 season, and was at the top spot in the three preceding years.

Are We Underestimating the King?

The skepticism surrounding James is perhaps what fuels him the most. Even in what could be considered a “diminished” capacity last season, he averaged 28.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game, with a 50% shooting percentage. During the playoffs, he posted nearly a 25-10-7 average, playing a crucial role in propelling the Lakers to the Western Conference Finals. These statistics alone refute the notion that LeBron is anywhere near done.

A Glimpse of the Possible Future

Just like other sports legends who’ve experienced late-career resurgencies—such as Messi winning the World Cup and then making a splash in MLS, or Brady leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory—LeBron has the potential to alter the course of this narrative drastically. With Anthony Davis by his side and a revamped Lakers roster, another championship isn’t entirely out of reach.

A Comparative Look at Championship Credentials

Of the players ranked higher than LeBron in the Elite 100 list, only four have championship rings—Jokic, Giannis, Curry, and Kevin Durant. The rest—like Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid, and Damian Lillard—haven’t tasted the ultimate victory yet. 

Final Thoughts: Can We Truly Count Him Out?

Proclaiming the end of LeBron James’ dominance might be akin to declaring that the sun won’t rise tomorrow—skeptical at best and naive at worst. Even Canadian sportsbooks, which often calculate odds based on a player’s recent performance and overall career trajectory, would likely hesitate to bet against LeBron’s resilience. James has proved time and time again that he thrives on overcoming challenges. In a sporting universe where GOAT athletes often defy logic, counting LeBron out could be a mistake we’ll soon regret. This season may very well become another chapter in the complex narrative that is LeBron James, perhaps compelling us all to reevaluate our understanding of greatness.