LeBron James is just 31, but he’s already played more total NBA minutes than all but 26 people in history. He’s far closer to the end of his career than he is to the beginning, and nothing has snapped that into focus with greater clarity than the recent retirements of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett.
James told reporters Tuesday that he knows his generation of stars – which is largely comprised of close friends Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul – will be the next to say goodbye.
“We’re on deck,” he said.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be walking away any time soon. James put forth arguably his most transcendent stretch of play in the Finals less than four months ago, Paul was an All-NBA second teamer and All-Defensive first teamer, and Anthony and Wade both put up All-Star seasons with PERs over 20. They may be on the back nine, but they still have a lot of fairway in front of them.
Still, this year’s departure of a triumvirate of generational stars that first came to prominence in the late 90s clearly has James feeling his NBA mortality.
There’s a tiny remnant of active stars and ex-stars who came into the league before him and his famed 2003 draft cohorts. There’s Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Vince Carter, and … that’s about it. Few others stand between James and elder statesmanship, between him and the black void of retirement. Father time spares no one.