Everyone knew there was bad news by the time Darvin Ham, the thoughtful, soft-spoken coach of the LA Lakers, walked into the media room adjacent to the Crypto.Com Arena locker room early Sunday evening.
It was two hours before tipoff of his team’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers and Coach Ham had arrived to talk to a group of fifteen to twenty slightly dejected reporters about LeBron James.
The 38-year-old superstar, the coach confirmed, would miss his first game of the season with a ‘left calf contusion’.
He was asked for more and more details until his press conference became a lengthy medical bulletin. The gloom, the sense of anticlimax, was palpable.
A Lakers game without LeBron is like a court without a king.
LeBron James remains a dominant force in the NBA despite being 38
The Los Angeles Lakers star is in his 21st season in the NBA but shows no signs of slowing down
The Lakers star missed his team’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night after suffering a calf injury against the Phoenix Suns
Speculation about James’ injury has been rife since he limped out of the previous game against the Phoenix Suns.
The idea of him not being available had been discussed in apocalyptic terms. Analysts didn’t try to hide how dependent the Lakers were on James’ continued brilliance.
Coach Ham didn’t try to hide it either. “There’s no reason to run him into the ground this early in the season,” he said.
“You’re never going to replace what he does, but if you do things right, you can survive his absence.”
“Survive his absence” felt like an interesting line. That’s what we’re all trying to do as the big sports stars age and crack, succumb to more injuries and ration their time.
We survive their absence and try to prepare for the moment when they decide they can no longer compete.
Not that that time is near for James, who became the highest scorer in NBA history last year by breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record of 38,387 points.
He’s still by far the Lakers’ best player, still the one the team psychologically depends on. He is still one of the top scorers in the league. He remains the team’s best chance to make the playoffs.
He also remains a hero to all who love the game, and to all who recognize greatness. In a recent interview, Jude Bellingham, the Real Madrid and England player who has the world at his feet, was asked to name the person he would like to be for one day. “LeBron James,” Bellingham said. ‘Someone who is the very best at something.’
James won his fourth NBA title in 2020, when he guided the Lakers to their first championship in a decade
The veteran superstar remains the Lakers’ most influential players despite his age
Let me reiterate: James is 38 years old. In that game against the Suns, he was nine years older than the second-oldest player in the Lakers’ starting lineup.
He’s old enough to open a LeBron James Museum next week in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. He is both a museum piece and a man who stands out among players almost half his age.
At the start of this season, he agreed with Coach Ham on a plan that would limit him to 30 minutes out of 48 over four quarters, as a half-hearted concession to his age. That plan was dead within a few games. James played more minutes than anyone else.
There are some who seem to resent the longevity of the great and the havoc that time can wreak on them. These people argue that if James can’t win another championship, what’s the point? I’m not one of them.
I admire athletes like James and Andy Murray as much for their refusal to bow to the times as for the triumphs of their earlier careers.
I don’t understand those who say that Murray, James or Lewis Hamilton, also 38 years old and about to drag his uncompetitive Mercedes through the streets of Las Vegas, are tarnishing their legacy by competing beyond the prime of their career.
They don’t tarnish their legacy. They are decorating them. They add more layers to it.
To compete when age makes the odds even greater against you, to persevere even when you know your chances of winning are slimmer, to strive even when you know younger rivals have a built-in advantage – there’s something about the tenacity of that and the courage of that which brings a whole new level of greatness to the great.
Like James, Lewis Hamilton is still competing at the age of 38, despite not yet being in his prime
The Briton’s quest for a record eighth world title has been hampered by an uncompetitive Mercedes in the past two seasons
Andy Murray’s competitive fire burns as intensely as ever, despite the Scot being 36 and having endured a torrid time with injuries in recent years
James played another role on Sunday. He initially sat emotionless on the right side, at the end of the line of Lakers replacements. The only emotion he showed in the first half was responding to Lakers three-point baskets by crossing his left arm over his chest and tapping his right arm with three fingers.
He became more animated in the third quarter as the game slowly started moving the Lakers’ way. Meanwhile, he jumped from his stool and marched onto the court to celebrate important moments. When the game was over and the Lakers had secured a 116-110 victory, he rushed out of the arena to leave the stage to his teammates.
As the crowd filed out of the exits, they were met by the sight of a giant digital billboard on South Figueroa Street that played up the astonishing longevity of the Lakers superstar who refuses to take a step back.
“The last generation had LeBron James,” the tagline says, next to a photo of James in a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey, about to dunk the basketball. Then the screen changes to show a photo of him in the exact same pose in a Lakers jersey. The slogan has also changed. “This generation has LeBron James,” it reads.
A cruel end to Rapinoe’s great farewell
There were 10 or 12 big screens in the sports bar on Venice Beach. Saturday night, most of them showed college football from Texas, Oregon and Ohio, young men who were at the very beginning of their careers and still had everything ahead of them.
One screen showed women’s soccer from San Diego, where OL Reign played NY/NJ Gotham FC in the NWSL Championship match.
The match was played as a battle between Gotham’s Ali Krieger and Reign’s Megan Rapinoe, who played her last match before retiring at the age of 38.
Megan Rapinoe’s very last match ended when she tore her Achilles tendon after just a few minutes
The USWNT legend was in tears as she ended an illustrious football career
A few minutes into the match, Rapinoe went to close down an opponent, slipped and fell awkwardly. And that was it.
She knew immediately that it was over. She heard a pop in her heel. She had torn her Achilles tendon. She was helped off the field, her game and her career were over.
Rapinoe polarizes opinions like few other athletes. Men in particular who fear the invasion of women’s football into their world seem threatened by her.
But she left a game that had given her such a cruel farewell with grace, honor and dignity. “Maybe I’m just a bigger vessel for life,” she said after Reign’s 2-1 defeat.
“You don’t always get the perfect ending.”
The US is suffering from pickleball fever
Many of my friends in England have been bitten by the padel bug and play every moment they can. There are pickleball courts everywhere in Santa Monica and Venice Beach.
I like both sports, partly because they are essentially simpler versions of tennis.
Hayes will cut American diamonds
The NSWL Championship match was one of the highest quality women’s matches I have seen.
And when I saw the brilliance of Rose Lavelle in OL Reign’s midfield, and the pace, guile and intelligence of player-of-the-match Midge Purce on Gotham’s right wing, it struck me that under the leadership of Emma Hayes USA The women’s national team now has a coach who will get the best out of a brilliant group of players.
English football could soon regret the loss of Hayes for more reasons than one.
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes will take charge of the USWNT next season