HomeSportsGranderson: LeBron James is the aging icon we all needed

Granderson: LeBron James is the aging icon we all needed

I remember the day I quit basketball.

It wasn’t easy.

It wasn’t my decision either. The twenty-year-old who gave me that job made the decision for me.

When my 50-year-old self finally scored a basket on him, one of my teammates shouted, “get him old school.” At first I had no idea who he was talking to. I’ve been playing basketball for forty years and no one has ever called me “old school.” Then that boy scored on me again. And then again.

Anyway, that was my last match. I don’t even belong to that gym anymore. I didn’t want to see the place of my death all the time.

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I’m sure there are plenty of gym rats out there who know the feeling. Maybe you get to shoot a few hoops with your kids, but that’s about it. Which brings me to this point: Right now, NBA teams are debating whether to draft an 18-year-old in the hopes that his 39-year-old father will join him.

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And not out of nostalgia.

Forget the “LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan” debate. James’ battle with Father Time is much more compelling and relatable. This week, James was named to his 20th All-NBA team. This means that James has been considered one of the 15 best players in the world for the entire lifetime of Bronny James. He also holds the record for being both the youngest and oldest player on that list.

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In many ways, reducing James’ career to a debate about whether he is the GOAT is a disservice. Sure, there are numbers that support the Jordan case or the James argument. Both players could be the best to ever pick up a basketball.

But the number I’m looking at is overlooked: six. That is the minimum number of presidential terms that will pass through the White House, while James is a top player in the best basketball league in the world. This is amazing.

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The simple fact that sports media has been debating “Jordan vs. LeBron” for over a decade is an insult to the concept of time.

Grant Hill.

Vince Carter.

Kobe.

Penny Hardaway.

Harold Miner Jr.

The industry quickly and often began to christen “the next Jordan.” And that is understandable. How could we not want to see a clone of the best player we had ever seen? But while the sports media left some of the previous candidates behind, we remain fascinated by James. So much so that it wasn’t until this year – with Anthony Edwards in Minnesota – that there was even a substantive newcomer to consider since James started winning championships.

The Jordan comparisons were thrown around a lot less lightly after James came onto the scene. Even now, at 39 years old and his son preparing to compete, he is still the player most often compared to Jordan. The constant juxtaposition of these two figures and the focus on James’ stats has overshadowed the most notable aspect of his career: his longevity.

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Rafael Nadal, who won his first French Open in 2005, is retiring from the game after a record-breaking career. Meanwhile, James, who was named All-NBA in 2005, is still expected to lead a team to a championship at least once. No other player in the history of the game has carried such an expectation over the past twenty years. We’ve been so busy shouting about which player is the best that we didn’t notice. We’ve been having the same discussion about the same player for a long time.

In addition to being named to his 20th All-NBA team, James became the first player to be named an All-Star starter for the 20th time this season. One more than Kareem, two more than Kobe, five more than Shaq. And remarkably, he’s still going. Of course, Father Time will ultimately win this battle.

After all, he is undefeated.

But like a gym rat who was forced into retirement by some punk with a crossover, I’m still rooting for the underdog to last as long as possible.

@LZGranderson

Now when it’s in the news, it’s covered in the opinion section of the LA Times. Sign up for our weekly opinion newsletter.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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