Could 2014 Be LeBron’s Last Year of Great Basketball?

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Even the most irrational LeBron hater has to admit that the 2014 Cleveland Cavaliers are eminently more exciting than the Miami Heat superteam that dominated the Eastern Conference from 2010 until this last summer, although the script, that James left a roster with some insurmountable holes to pair up with a couple of All-Stars in order to cement his legacy, is largely identical. The biggest difference? James didn’t leave a team with no hope against the reigning conference heavyweights, the Boston Celtics, to play in the NBA-indifferent city of Miami. This time, he left the reigning conference heavyweights to go back to the team he left because they finally realized that putting good players around James was the best way to have him wear their uniform.

When LeBron left Cleveland, he was a 25-year-old who had already logged almost 20,000 minutes played during the regular season. Factoring in their playoff appearances, he’d spent 22,231 minutes in a Cavs uniform — over 370 hours, or 15 days and change, of high-level NBA action. As anyone who watched James during his formative years knows, a majority of it was spent going full bore. He’s played nearly 15,000 minutes of NBA basketball since then, and that’s before we get to the Olympic duties and the charity games and the rest of it. On top of the wear-and-tear that anyone picks up from being athletic, James will turn 30 this December, and 30 has a tendency to be a bad year for NBA athletes.

In 2009, when LeBron James was about to turn 25, The Wall Street Journal did some reporting on an interesting study on those who make basketball a profession. The lede then was a question, about whether or not is LeBron peaking right now (as in, at 25) which could (sort of) be inferred by the data, which suggested that NBA players tend to hit their highest individual ability around at age 25. This was largely sensationalist, because, as the study’s author noted, “the key issue is not the specific point in the player’s 20s where the peak occurs, but rather that performance after age 30 has a noticeable drop-off.” Now, of course, we’re in the year 2014, and LeBron James is about to pass that second, more noticeable, milestone.