Last week Amin ElHassan and Ethan Strauss of ESPN discussed a recent poll about how many titles Lebron James will win in Cleveland. 97% of people who weighed-in believed that Lebron will win at least one championship. 44% believe Lebron will win one championship in Cleveland, 34% believe he will win two, and 19% believe he will win three. At one point in the discussion, Mr. Strauss pessimistically said how unlikely it would be for Lebron to win any championships in Cleveland. I was curious to see what the numbers say about how many repeat champions won titles after the age of 30 years 251 days (Lebron’s current age). The numbers are telling.
Jordan, Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, Duncan, Chamberlain, Hakeem, Dirk, and Shaq all won at least one championship at older ages than Lebron’s current age. Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar, Chamberlain, Hakeem, Kobe, and Dirk all won Finals MVPs on the wrong side of 30. So, there are quite a few stars with championships after 30 and Lebron could easily join this group. That said, more has been made in Minutes Played over actual age when it comes to a decline in production. This has been an especially important metric for players that made the leap from High School to the NBA and started their NBA careers at age 18 instead of 21 or 22 like traditional college players. So by taking Lebron’s current total NBA Minutes and comparing it to other historical greats, we can get a more accurate picture of the likelihood of Lebron’s future success.
Looking at minutes, only Russell, Jabbar, Chamberlain, Duncan and Robertson won a championship with more than 36,000 minutes (roughly Lebron’s career minutes). Bird, Magic, Isiah, and Robinson were all retired before playing 36,000 minutes. Jordan was done with his run with the Bulls, Hakeem, Shaq, Kobe, and Dirk were all done with their championship runs. Only Russell, Kareem, Wilt, Duncan, and Robertson won championships after 36,000 minutes and they all had major help.
Russell had Sam Jones, John Havlicek, Tom Sanders, Tom Heinsohn, and KC Jones all Hall of Famers and the Celtics had 6 players average double figures that year. Kareem had Magic, Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, Bob McAdoo, and Kurt Rambus and the Lakers had 6 players in double figures that year. Wilt had Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, and Jim McMillian and Wilt was the Lakers 3rd leading scorer that year. Duncan’s Spurs were extremely balanced with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, and Marco Belinelli and like the others had 6 players average in double figures. Like Russell and Wilt, Duncan was not the leading scorer on the team. Only Kareem and Wilt won a Finals MVP after 36,000 minutes, but even they had a ton of help. Of all the players who actually won a championship after 36,000 minutes, only Oscar was perimeter player and his team did not have 6 players average in double figures (only 5). He did have a young Center named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who had his 2nd best statistical season that year (31.7 PPG, 16 RPG), along with two other 15+PPG scorers. All of the “seasoned” champions had major help when winning championships after the 36,000 minute mark.
In addition to playing almost 36,000 regular season minutes, Lebron is also currently 7th on the all-time playoff minutes list with 7,561. Only Duncan, Kareem, Kobe, Pippen, Shaq, and Malone have played more and with another couple of Finals runs, he’d pass them all. (On a complete side note, how is Karl Malone on this list without winning a single championship?) Of those players with more playoff minutes, none have played as many international minutes as Lebron. Lebron has played 5 summers with Team USA including 3 Olympic Games (2004, 2008, 2012). Many of these summer commitments came on the heals on deep playoff runs, giving Lebron’s body little time to recover.
So, knowing the numbers and understanding the real wear-and-tear on his body, Lebron is a smart man and knows that his only real chance to win more championships is to have more help. This is the reason he has become the league’s greatest recruiter. Lebron has to know that for him to win more championships on his high mileage body, he will have to do it as the second or third best player on his team or he will be doing something that no perimeter champion has ever done this late in his career. As possibly the greatest athlete the NBA has ever seen, he might just be able to do it. That is only possible if his body holds up and he gets some serious help from Irving, Love, and…Mozgov?