The exhaustion and resignation on his face after Game 3 was clear as day. LeBron James had basically played like Superman, and well after midnight, as he sat down to explain what had happened and why Cleveland had suffered such a devastating loss, he couldn’t hide the obvious.
“It's physically and emotionally draining because I give everything to the game and want to put myself and my teammates in a position to be successful,” James said.
And maybe he’ll never have as much to give because in the 2017 NBA Finals we just may have witnessed peak LeBron.
Because how can he top the numbers, the output, the effort that pushed him to his limits for five games? How can he ever again average 33.6 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists on the game’s biggest stage, authoring the kind of performance that led some to make legitimate arguments that he should be the Finals MVP despite the fact the Cavs were pasted by the Warriors?
How can he top that considering this was his age 32 season, and convention says it’s going to be his turn—real quick—to start slowing down. History has shown us that the numbers of superstars begin to trend in the wrong direction once they reach that magical age. Check out Michael Jordan. Same with Kobe Bryant. Father Time stays undefeated, and LeBron, despite all the ways he’s defied basketball logic over his incredible career, can't do what he did in the Finals for much longer. Or probably ever again.
At some point soon, you’d have to think the incredible number of minutes he’s played over his 14 years would finally take a toll. He’s been insanely lucky not to have suffered a major injury over his career, his Adonis-like body holding up impecably well despite the grind of the NBA. But LeBron just got done leading the league in minutes played per game. He averaged an absurd 42.4 minutes per game in the Finals, an incredibly taxing amount given the pressure of the situation and, of course, the opponent. In total, he’s played 217 playoff games, or basically an extra two and a half seasons. He's got a ton of miles on those legs and knees.
the idea of LeBron being able to repeat the performance we just witnessed in the Finals is probably asking too much, even for a living legend. If super heroes have a shelf life, so does peak LeBron.
And you can only carry a franchise, a city, the way LeBron has for so long. You can only do the unthinkable, like become the only player in NBA history to lead both teams in a playoff series in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, for a very short time. LeBron has performed to the levels of MJ or Magic or Bird or whatever other legend you want to compare him to—and in many ways surpassed them. But what we saw out of LeBron during these playoffs, during the Finals is not sustainable. Even immortals eventually regress to the mean.
So let’s hope we all appreciated LeBron’s run through the postseason and into a seventh straight NBA Finals where his brilliance was yet again on full display. It’s a thing of beauty to watch him do his thing; to pass like no other player his size, marvel at his absurd athleticism, and watch him dominate a game like nobody since Jordan.
But please don’t get it wrong. I’m not suggesting that LeBron is about to fall off a cliff next season just because he's going to be 33. He's not all of a sudden going to look like a geezer because he's a year older with another long run through June under his belt. It’s just that the idea of him being able to repeat the performance we just witnessed in the Finals is probably asking too much, even for a living legend. If super heroes have a shelf life, so does peak LeBron.