LeBron James was the youngest player on the floor when he made his NBA debut 20 years ago.
He’s now the oldest player in the league.
The Kid from Akron — what James still calls himself — isn’t a kid anymore, and the 38-year-old enters this season as the NBA’s most senior player. He was only No. 3 on that list last season, behind Udonis Haslem (who played his last game two days shy of turning 43) and Andre Iguodala (who retired at 39).
James wasn’t the league’s youngest player as a rookie; Darko Milicic, the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft and taken one spot behind James, is a few months younger than James. Milicic made his debut two days after James did.
Here’s a look inside the numbers as James is set to embark on his 21st NBA season, and first as the league’s eldest statesman:
Just like last year, when he was pursuing the league’s all-time scoring mark, James is chasing a scoring record held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Abdul-Jabbar averaged 23.4 points in the 1985-86 season. That’s the record for scoring average by the oldest player in the league in a season. Abdul-Jabbar turned 39 that year.
Abdul-Jabbar spent five seasons as the league’s oldest player. He’s the only “oldest player” to average 20 points in a season; Abdul-Jabbar did that twice, also averaging 22 points per game in 1984-85.
James has never averaged less than 20.9 points in a season (that was his rookie year) and averaged 28.9 points last season.
Only two players have averaged 20 points in a season where they were 39 or older. James turns 39 on Dec. 30.
Both of those instances came in the 2002-03 season. Karl Malone averaged 20.6 points as a 39-year-old, and Michael Jordan averaged exactly 20.0 points in the season where he turned 40.
James is entering his 21st NBA season.
Nobody has ever averaged more than 7.4 points in their 21st NBA season; Vince Carter did that in 2018-19, the same season where Dirk Nowitzki averaged 7.3.
Only four other players besides Carter and Nowitzki actually played in a 21st season — Moses Malone, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Willis and Robert Parish.
James already has the records for scoring average by a player in his 18th, 19th and 20th season.
The “oldest player” in an NBA season has been picked for the All-Star Game on 13 previous occasions. It happened with Abdul-Jabbar five times, with John Havlicek three times and once each for Larry Costello, Slater Martin, Bobby Wanzer, Johnny Green and Robert Parish.
Parish was the most recent player with that distinction; he was an All-Star in 1991 at the age of 37.
James has been an All-Star selection 19 times, tied with Abdul-Jabbar for the most in NBA history. James has appeared in all 19 of those games; that’s a record for All-Star appearances, one more than Abdul-Jabbar.
Barring something shocking, it’s reasonable to think James will average at least 10 points per game this season.
It’s been a long time since the “oldest player” did that.
The last player to average double figures in a season as the NBA’s oldest guy was John Stockton, who averaged 10.8 points for Utah in 2002-03. Stockton turned 41 that season; he spent two years as the league’s oldest player and missed zero games in that span.
The closest to double-figure averaging since was Shaquille O’Neal, who averaged 9.2 points in 2010-11 — his last season, and his only season spent as the league’s oldest player.
On average, the “oldest player” in the NBA has averaged 7.8 points per game.
Abdul-Jabbar’s 23.4 points in 1985-86 is the record; seven players wound up averaging 1 point per game or less, with Mike Novak’s 0.2-point average (he made one free throw in five games) the record for lowest, set in 1953-54.
James will become the 43rd player in NBA history to hold the distinction of being the league’s “oldest player.”
Most players — 26 of the previous 42 — held that crown for just one year. Among them: Paul Silas, who was James’ first NBA coach when the then-18-year-old entered the league with Cleveland.
Some got the “oldest player” title under most unusual circumstances; Bob Cousy was the league’s oldest player for seven games in the 1969-70 season because he briefly came back after retiring six years earlier, and Nat Hickey — the league’s oldest player ever — was a coach who activated himself for two games with the Providence Steamrollers in 1948 as a 45-year-old. He scored two points.
Robert Parish was the league’s oldest player for seven seasons, the most in NBA history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar held the title in five seasons; Elvin Hayes and Vince Carter in four seasons; Kevin Willis, Larry Costello, Dikembe Mutombo, Johnny Green, Udonis Haslem, John Havlicek and Al Cervi in three seasons; and Slater Martin, Dolph Schayes, Bobby Wanzer, Andre Miller and John Stockton all had it in two seasons.
Among the others who wound up as the league’s oldest player in a season: Silas, Cousy, Hickey, Lenny Wilkens, Shaquille O’Neal, Grant Hill, Steve Nash, Dale Ellis and Sam Perkins.
James enters this season 1,348 points shy of the 40,000 mark for his regular-season career.
At his current averages — about 27 points per game in his career, about 29 points per game last season — James would need somewhere around 47 to 50 games this season to reach the 40,000-point mark.
That would mean James could hit that milestone in late January or early February, if he doesn’t miss games in the interim.
AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba