LeBron James may be 38 years old, but he just scored 40 points and essentially played all 48 minutes in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals despite dealing with a nagging foot injury. He averaged 28.9 points per game in the regular season and seems to have plenty of competitive basketball ahead of him. Yet the Los Angeles Lakers' season-ending loss to the Denver Nuggets ended his 20th year in the NBA.
Only two players in NBA history have played more games than James has if you include the playoffs, and nobody has scored more points. James has already accomplished more than just about any other player in NBA history, and he remains so good even after two decades that he's never really felt the need to address the possibility of retirement.
Until now. James ended his press conference Monday on a fairly cryptic note.
"I got a lot to think about," James said after the game. "Just personally, with me moving forward with the game of basketball, I got a lot to think about."
That quote initially leaves a fair bit up for interpretation. But ESPN's Dave McMenamin spoke to James afterward, and he made it clear that he was, in fact, speaking about retirement.
LeBron James to ESPN on his thought process going into the offseason:— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) May 23, 2023
Q: When you say you got to think about stuff, what thread should we be pulling on that?
A: "If I want to continue to play."
Q: As in next year?
Q: You would walk away?
A: "I got to think about it."
James signed a contract extension last offseason, so retiring would mean leaving over $50 million on the table. Retiring now would also mean eschewing his long-stated dream of playing alongside his son, Bronny, if the retirement was permanent. James could also theoretically retire for a year and then return once his son is draft-eligible. The younger James is set to play for USC this season.
It might be a little while before Lakers fans see James on the court again whether or not he retires. He hinted at needing foot surgery earlier in the season, and now that the Lakers have been eliminated, he may wind up getting it and missing some time at the beginning of next season. He may also be less able to recover from major injuries than he was in his prime, and perhaps is feeling the frustration that comes with the aging process.
James just led the Lakers to the Western Conference Finals, but got swept in the process. That proves he's still more than capable of competing for championships, but he's also likely frustrated by the result of a series that he played in while injured. With time, the sting of defeat may fade. But this is by far the most seriously James has ever discussed retirement. It was only a matter of time after 20 years, and now we await his final decision.