Almost every NBA story about the great LeBron James, especially when it comes to his advancing age and how the passage of time miraculously hasn’t affected him, basically says what one commentator last year summed up like this. “We’ve had guys who have been in the league for 15 years before. We’ve had guys who were clearly the best player in the league before. What we’ve never had before is a guy who is clearly the best player while in his 15th year in the league. That’s LeBron James.”
But this is Year 16 for James (his NBA debut was in 2003). And now he’s in LA with a young, uneven, unproven crew. Only fools doubt the man’s game or passion, but some non-fools are seeing something they’ve never seen before. “My eyeballs say [LeBron] was not hustling on defense… I saw an effort issue,” said former NBA star turned announcer Jalen Rose. (Rose averaged 19.3 points, 4.4 assists and 4.3 rebounds from 1999-2005.) Rose clarified that he’s not doubting James’s famous competitive spirit. Instead he excuses the “effort issue” by citing James’s age, which people generally have been reluctant to address out loud. (James, 34, is in the first year of a 4-year deal with the Lakers after going to eight straight NBA Finals). Rose said what few have said about James yet: “As an older player he can’t give that level of effort consistently.” Consistently is the key, according to Rose. James can still dominate, but to lead these young Lakers? May be too tall an order. Then again, doubting James has not been a good bet historically.