The Lakers’ LeBron James is redefining NBA longevity as he reaches his 21st season

The Lakers’ LeBron James is redefining NBA longevity as he reaches his 21st season
Phoenix Suns forward Yuta Watanabe's pass is deflected by Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) during the second quarter of their NBA pre season game at Acrisure Arena. (USA TODAY Sports)
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Updated 20 October 2023
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The Lakers’ LeBron James is redefining NBA longevity as he reaches his 21st season

The Lakers’ LeBron James is redefining NBA longevity as he reaches his 21st season
  • James begins his 21st NBA season next week with his 39th birthday looming in December
  • James makes this unprecedented NBA longevity look relatively easy, yet he also smiles and deflects when asked about his endgame

EL SEGUNDO, California: LeBron James is already the defining figure of this basketball era with his strength, skills, smarts and relentless will to win.

The Los Angeles Lakers superstar now seems determined to redefine how long an elite player can stay on top.

James begins his 21st NBA season next week with his 39th birthday looming in December, yet the top scorer in league history shows shockingly few signs of decline from his peerless standard of performance. From a statistical standpoint, James’ prolific production hasn’t waned in any significant way for two full decades.

James admits he can feel the years. For everybody else, they’re almost impossible to see.

“I feel different. I’m not a 21-year-old, that’s for sure,” James said with a laugh. “Feels a little bit different getting out of bed every day. But as far as my energy level, I feel pretty good.”

From Tom Brady to Kelly Slater, modern athletes across all sports have rewritten the traditional guidelines around age and decline in the 21st century. Few have ever done it like James, whose ascent to the throne of the NBA’s oldest player caught his Lakers teammates by surprise.

“He sure doesn’t play like it,” Austin Reaves said. “He’s still out here making us look bad in practice.”

James makes this unprecedented NBA longevity look relatively easy, yet he also smiles and deflects when asked about his endgame. He says he doesn’t know how long he wants to play, and he admits he thought hard about walking away after last season before he decided to return to the Lakers while even keeping an eye on the Paris Olympics next summer.

“I don’t know what the end is going to look like,” he said. “I have no idea.”

James is the sixth player in league history to make it into a 21st season, but nobody has ever played this many years at James’ current level of performance — with the caveat that James got a jump on his career by entering the league directly out of high school, of course.

That difference gives him more NBA seasons at a younger age, but also more wear and tear on his body from competition against other grown men. It’s still increasingly clear that nobody has ever stayed as good as LeBron for as long as LeBron, who averaged 28.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game last season.

The other five NBA players to reach 21 seasons — Robert Parish, Kevin Willis, Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter and Kevin Garnett — were all markedly diminished from their peaks. Only Carter played a 22nd season, but James currently seems capable of obliterating that barrier if he wishes.

While nearly all NBA players who lasted even to their mid-30s took precipitous declines in effectiveness before hanging up their sneakers, the former teenage phenomenon from Akron is still an elite, All-Star-caliber performer on a strong team. The Lakers reached the Western Conference finals under James’ leadership last season, and they look capable of contending for his fifth title.

While James’ merciless work ethic is the stuff of NBA legend, he also cites more holistic reasons for his ability keep up in a sport that demands youthlike athleticism now more than ever.

“It’s just staying focused and being passionate about the purity of the game,” James said. “Understanding the ones that came before me, respecting the history of the game, and also understanding that if you want to be great at something, you’ve got to put in the work. There’s no substitution for work. I put in the work on the court, off the court.”

Only injuries significantly slowed James during the end of his second decade in professional basketball. James has missed 80 games over the past three seasons, sitting out roughly one-third of the Lakers’ regular-season contests.

He was slowed last spring by an injured tendon in his right foot, but he still extended his streak to a jaw-dropping 282 playoff games without an absence.

James and the Lakers are working harder than ever to keep him healthy this season — and for who knows how many more years to come.

Along with consulting James and Anthony Davis on minute management, the Lakers have complemented their stars with a deep roster containing more playmakers than last season, possibly freeing James from some of the heavier work in initiating the offense.

“That goes into making us more efficient in how we manage (James),” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “Now that we have, top to bottom, what we feel like is a highly balanced, skilled, younger team of guys who’ve logged a ton of NBA minutes, we can surround both (James) and AD with players that are eager to contribute and impact winning. And Bron does a great job of taking care of himself.”

A player who has done it all and won it all might struggle for motivation, but James always has new worlds to conquer.

A year after he surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career scoring record, James begins the new year just 549 minutes away from passing Abdul-Jabbar’s record for the most minutes played in NBA history. With good health, he’ll almost certainly become the first person to score 40,000 points in the NBA.

James has another dimension of motivation after he dedicated the season to his oldest son, Bronny. The USC freshman is recovering from a frightening cardiac event, and James is determined to remain an example of hard work and perseverance.

When asked what still inspires him two decades into his career, James immediately mentions his three children. The chance to coach Bryce James’ AAU team during the summer rekindled his own passion for the game after the tumultuous end of the Lakers’ season.

“I just had conversations with my family, conversations with myself,” James said. “I feel like I’ve got a lot more in the tank to give.”


Second-seeded Holger Rune eases past American Michael Mmoh at Mexican Open

Second-seeded Holger Rune eases past American Michael Mmoh at Mexican Open
Updated 19 sec ago
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Second-seeded Holger Rune eases past American Michael Mmoh at Mexican Open

Second-seeded Holger Rune eases past American Michael Mmoh at Mexican Open
  • The 20-year-old Rune, from Denmark, reached the semifinals in Acapulco last year
  • Fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Roman Safiullin 6-3, 6-4 and moved on to the second round where he will face Flavio Cobolli

ACAPULCO, Mexico: Second-seeded Holger Rune eased past American Michael Mmoh 6-2, 6-3 on Tuesday and advanced to the second round of the Mexican Open.

Rune, ranked seventh in the ATP, needed 92 minutes to dispatch Mmoh, who made his way into the main draw through the qualification tournament.

The 20-year-old Rune, from Denmark, reached the semifinals in Acapulco last year. He advanced to face the winner of the late match between Aleksandar Kovasevic and Jordan Thompson.

Earlier, fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Roman Safiullin 6-3, 6-4 and moved on to the second round where he will face Flavio Cobolli.

The 25-year-old Greek reached the semifinals last week in Los Cabos, Mexico, and is trying to win his first career 500 tournament.

Also Tuesday, Frances Tiafoe, seeded eighth, rallied to beat Max Purcell 4-6, 6-3, 6-0. He moved on to face Dominik Koepfer, who took care of Terence Atmane 6-4, 4— 6, 6-0.

Tiafoe is the highest-ranked American player in contention in the tournament after fourth-seeded Taylor Fritz and seventh-seeded Tommy Paul were knocked out on Monday.


Mallorca beat Real Sociedad on penalties to return to Copa del Rey final two decades later

Mallorca beat Real Sociedad on penalties to return to Copa del Rey final two decades later
Updated 28 February 2024
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Mallorca beat Real Sociedad on penalties to return to Copa del Rey final two decades later

Mallorca beat Real Sociedad on penalties to return to Copa del Rey final two decades later
  • Mallorca goalkeeper Dominik Greif saved the opening penalty by Mikel Oyarzabal, then Sergi Darder converted the decisive kick to put Mallorca in the final
  • Mallorca will play the April 6 final in Seville against either Atletico Madrid or Athletic Bilbao, who will play the second leg of the other semifinal on Thursday in Bilbao

MADRID: More than two decades later, Mallorca are back in the Copa del Rey final.

The Spanish club partly owned by Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and former NBA great Steve Nash defeated Real Sociedad 5-4 in a penalty shootout on Tuesday to make it to the final 21 years after they won the competition for the only time.

Mallorca goalkeeper Dominik Greif saved the opening penalty by Mikel Oyarzabal, then Sergi Darder converted the decisive kick to put Mallorca in the final. The teams drew 1-1 in regulation and were scoreless in extra time at Sociedad’s Reale Arena.

The teams had drawn 0-0 in the first leg in Mallorca on Feb. 6.

Mallorca will play the April 6 final in Seville against either Atletico Madrid or Athletic Bilbao, who will play the second leg of the other semifinal on Thursday in Bilbao. Athletic won the first leg 1-0 in Madrid.

It will be the fourth Copa final for Mallorca, which hadn’t made it the title game since it won the tournament in 2003 against Recreativo Huelva. Its other final appearances were in 1991 and 1998. It hadn’t made it to the semifinals since 2009.

Mallorca’s Mexican coach Javier Aguirre had taken Osasuna to the 2005 final, when it lost to Real Betis.

Sociedad was trying to return to the Copa final for the first time since it beat rival Athletic to lift the trophy in the 2019-20 season.

Vedat Muriqi, Manu Morlanes, Omar Mascarell and Nemanja Radonjic also scored for Mallorca in the penalty shootout. Beñat Turrientes, Jon Ander Olasagasti, Martín Zubimendi and Sheraldo Becker scored for Sociedad.

Mallorca took the lead in the 50th with a header by Gio Gonzalez into the far corner in what was the visitors’ only attempt on target during regulation. There was a long delay before the goal was confirmed as video review looked for a possible offside in the buildup.

The hosts, who had nearly 30 attempts throughout the match, equalized in a breakaway in the 71st with Oyarzabal finding the net with a low shot after a nice through ball by Brais Méndez.

Mallorca, who sit just outside the relegation zone in the Spanish league, had won only one of their last six games.

Sociedad, seventh after 26 league rounds, had one win in its last seven matches across all competitions. The Basque Country club is in the round of 16 of the Champions League, having lost the first leg against Paris Saint-Germain 2-0 in France.


Haaland scores five goals in Man City’s 6-2 rout of Luton in the FA Cup

Haaland scores five goals in Man City’s 6-2 rout of Luton in the FA Cup
Updated 28 February 2024
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Haaland scores five goals in Man City’s 6-2 rout of Luton in the FA Cup

Haaland scores five goals in Man City’s 6-2 rout of Luton in the FA Cup
  • Haaland now has 27 goals in all competitions for the season after scoring 52 in his first year at the club

Erling Haaland looks determined to make up for lost time.
The Norway striker scored five goals to power Manchester City into the quarterfinals of the FA Cup in a 6-2 win against Luton on Tuesday.
It was his eighth hat trick in a season-and-a-half with City and the second time he has scored five in a single game for the club.
Perhaps more significantly, it was evidence that Haaland is fully back up to speed after recently returning from a foot injury that ruled him out for more than a month between December and January.
“My fitness is getting back to its best finally,” he said. “I feel good. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Haaland had scored only three goals in seven appearances since making his comeback on Jan. 31.
By his remarkable standards, that represented a relative drought, but he looked back to his devastating best at Kenilworth Road with a first-half hat trick and two more after the break. Four of those goals came from assists by Kevin De Bruyne, who has also missed large parts of the season through injury.
“It’s a pleasure playing with him,” Haaland said. “I think we know what we both want from each other, we look at each other and it clicks well.”
Mateo Kovacic added a sixth for City, while Jordan Clark struck twice for Luton.
Haaland was denied a possible double hat trick when he was replaced by Julian Alvarez in the 77th minute. It was the second time City manager Pep Guardiola substituted the striker after scoring five goals, having taken him off during the 7-0 rout of RB Leipzig in the Champions League last year.
Haaland now has 27 goals in all competitions for the season after scoring 52 in his first year at the club.
His performance and linkup play with De Bruyne will also fuel the belief City can emulate last season’s treble of trophies when it won the Premier League title, FA Cup and Champions League.
“We’re coming. Exciting times (are) ahead,” Haaland said.
The forward completed his hat trick after 40 minutes, having opened the scoring in the third and adding a second in the 18th.
Clark pulled one back for Luton in the 45th and made it 3-2 with another seven minutes after halftime.
But Haaland quickly extended City’s lead with further goals in the 55th and 58th.
Kovacic completed the scoring with a long range effort in the 72nd.


Liverpool's injury list worsens after Ryan Gravenberch is ruled out

Liverpool's injury list worsens after Ryan Gravenberch is ruled out
Updated 28 February 2024
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Liverpool's injury list worsens after Ryan Gravenberch is ruled out

Liverpool's injury list worsens after Ryan Gravenberch is ruled out
  • Gravenberch sustained an ankle injury in the first half of Sunday’s English League Cup final
  • Endo left Wembley Stadium on crutches and wearing a protective boot

LIVERPOOL, England: Liverpool's injury crisis keeps on getting worse.
Ryan Gravenberch is the latest name to be added to an ever-lengthening list of players unavailable to the Premier League leader, while Wataru Endo is a doubt for Wednesday's FA Cup fifth round match against Southampton.
Gravenberch sustained an ankle injury in the first half of Sunday’s English League Cup final triumph against Chelsea and was taken off on a stretcher.
Endo left Wembley Stadium on crutches and wearing a protective boot.
“We need miracles with a few players,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said Tuesday. “I don’t want to rule them out for too long. But it is touch and go with a lot of players who were not available for the final: Darwin (Nunez), Mo (Salah), Dom (Szoboszlai) — we have to see what they can do."
Gravenberch has ligament damage that will keep him out for at least two games, Klopp said.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thiago Alcantara and goalkeeper Alisson Becker are other key players Klopp has had to do without in recent weeks.
Yet Liverpool remain in contention for a quadruple of trophies after Sunday's 1-0 win against Chelsea.
The Merseyside club are one point ahead of Manchester City at the top of the table and still competing for the FA Cup and the Europa League.


Bundesliga boss says rejection of investor deal ‘bad for the league’

Bundesliga boss says rejection of investor deal ‘bad for the league’
Updated 28 February 2024
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Bundesliga boss says rejection of investor deal ‘bad for the league’

Bundesliga boss says rejection of investor deal ‘bad for the league’
  • Fans had littered pitches with everything from tennis balls to chocolate coins in opposition to the plan
  • German football has a notable commitment to fan control and involvement via a “50+1” rule

BERLIN: Bundesliga boss Hans-Joachim Watzke said Tuesday the rejection of a planned investor deal, shelved after widespread fan protests, was “bad for the league.”
Last week the German Football Leagues (DFL) which runs the Bundesliga abandoned a planned billion-euro investment deal, which had previously been approved by the necessary two-thirds majority of clubs, due largely to fan protests resulting in long delays at matches.
Fans had littered pitches with everything from tennis balls to chocolate coins in opposition to the plan to swap a portion of the league’s future media revenues for an upfront cash injection.
DFL chairman Watzke told AFP and other journalists on Tuesday that fans “in Germany have a problem with investors.”
“Germans are traditional, perhaps even a bit old-fashioned.
“In Germany, investor is perhaps not the best word.”
German football has a notable commitment to fan control and involvement via a “50+1” rule which restricts the degree of influence an external investor can have over a club.
The rule remains enduringly popular among German fans, many of whom value it more than domestic or international competitiveness.
The DFL had promised the new deal would include supporter-friendly protections against changes in kick-off times or moving competitive fixtures abroad.
“Our contract with the investor had clear red lines that nothing could happen which would be a problem for the fans, but the problem was that fans didn’t believe us.
“It’s actually a problem in German society. Every idea that you tell the public, the public says ‘not good’.”
Watzke said the protests did not reflect the opinion of the average fan.
“Five percent of the fans — which is not so much, but they’re the organized fans — were against it.
“The average fans had no problem, but they did not tell anyone.
“Maybe 500 or 800 in the stadium, the organized fans, they had a clear position — no investor.”
The 64-year-old said the protests had changed the atmosphere around the deal, with clubs getting cold feet.
“As the boss of the Bundesliga, I always had the feeling that the clear majority of clubs supported it, but in the past weeks that changed.
“When I recognized that the majority was not there, then I stopped it.”
Watzke said the result will hit mid-table teams the hardest, rather than those at the top of the tree.
“You can be sure that there’s no problem for Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
“It’s a problem for the other clubs in the league. The money from the investor would be perfect to help the whole Bundesliga grow.
“Bayern and Dortmund will make our own way if it’s necessary.”
Watzke is also CEO of Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund and he was speaking on Tuesday to announce the opening of Dortmund’s first office in New York, where fellow Bundesliga heavyweights Bayern Munich have had a presence for a decade.