The coronation of LeBron James GOAT just got complicated.
For LeBron, this season will always be largely defined by his pursuit of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record, a mark that, at this rate, he should surpass by mid-February. If things had gone according to plan, the search for LeBron would have overlapped with something of a passing of the torch to Anthony Davis.
LeBron, the King, placing the all-time high scoring crown on his head, while also passing the mantle of No. 1 in this lakers team to Davis.
This seemed, as AD produced 40 and 50 point games and the Lakers morphed into a formidable force, like a reasonable reality.
Davis, when healthy, has always been a talent from another world: an offensive and defensive master who can spend large swaths of games outshining even the league’s other brightest stars. And there is precedent for an all-time great like LeBron to take a backseat to a team that could still dominate internally to win.
That’s a different kind of greatness and a more difficult, subtle path to chasing championships. Some can. Some can’t.
Take Kobe Bryant. Early in his career, Kobe played an awkward supporting role to Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq earned three consecutive NBA Finals MVPs, but both earned rings. Then, in the twilight of Kobe’s time in the league, things were different. He couldn’t give way to another star, or the idea of taking a back seat to would-be stars, and the Lakers were mired in back-to-back seasons of misery.
Steph Curry, at the height of his greatness, played second fiddle to Kevin Durant for the sake of the rings and team harmony. Tim Duncan did it late in his career for the Spurs and won more titles as a result. After his Lakers run, Shaq won his last championship as a supporting player in Miami, where a young Dwyane Wade went wild in the NBA Finals to take the title. Heat to the first title of the franchise.
There were reasons to hope, perhaps, that LeBron would do it this time, if he wanted to. Davis the superstar, Russell Westbrook the reborn sixth man, and LeBron in that secondary role that time was always going to make inevitable. He is perfect? No, but it’s recipe enough to give Lakers fans hope.
Win some games. Stay afloat in the Western Conference. Make the playoffs. And see what magic an AD-LeBron shaft could unleash, not the other way around. The celts stunned last year after a so-so start. Why not the Lakers in 2023?
Then AD injured his right foot. And now, for the 30 or so days he is expected to miss, a Lakers team in turmoil must once again turn to an aging King. They are 13-17, 13 in a formidable and crowded Western Conference. This period without Davis will go a long way in deciding whether this season simply measures LeBron’s greatness or extends it.
He must take them now. He has to hope, by doing so, that Davis can come back and get the load back. LeBron has to make sure the Lakers don’t get left behind so that Davis, if you trust him to stay healthy and great, can step into that role once he returns.
None of this suggests that LeBron planned to idly go down in the history books while giving up this, his 20th season in the league. But having AD there to help keep the team afloat, to do the heavy lifting, to prevent his co-star from overextending himself too soon, was always the preference.
LeBron learned long ago how to properly time a season, and himself, and gauge his game to have enough in the tank to be in top form in the playoffs. That has gotten harder as the years have rolled on for him, and the margin for error will now be very, very narrow.
Case in point: The 2020-21 season, when the Lakers fell to seventh place, exerting crucial energy for that push, they won the inning game against the Los Angeles Lakers. warriors of the golden stateand then lost to him Suns in the first round of payments.
He may be days away from his 38th birthday, but LeBron can still compete with the best. That being said, the magnitude of the miracle you can ask of him has diminished. He’s averaging 27/8.5/6.5 this season, he’s playing a lot of minutes, and while his shooting has diminished, there’s plenty of reason to acknowledge that his greatness remains.
But is it still enough to carry a mediocre Lakers team? To win games, just sometimes, night after night in the middle of the regular season, like AD had before his injury? Being so special that it infuses the ordinary around them to play beyond themselves?
The King’s coronation as the greatest of all time is approaching. Like it or not, passing Kareem will jeopardize LeBron’s claim to that spot. That was always true. History will probably not remember how or when it happened to Kareem. He will only know that he did it.
The toughest challenge, GOAT’s biggest litmus test before LeBron James, even if it’s not remembered that way 10 years from now, is whether he can turn back the years one last time and lead a team that suddenly needs a aging. savior.
We saw it with Lionel Messi and Argentina in the World Cup. We saw it a couple of years ago with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We know that, for the true greats, it is possible. We know what it looks like.
The all-time scoring record is a lock. But what got LeBron there, that unimaginable talent that he has unfurled over two exciting decades of basketball, now has a heavier load to carry.
It’s time to see if you still have the strength to do it.