38 special (but also frustrating)
LeBron James is playing basketball better than anyone ever has at his age, but his birthday can't feel too festive with the Lakers in the midst of yet another season with nothing to celebrate
It has been a spectacular run of basketball spectating in Dallas.
Dirk Nowitzki was honored on Christmas Morning with one of the most well-sculpted statues in sports history.
Then Luka Dončić rumbled for 60 points and 21 rebounds and 10 points in a display two nights later that, if all those numbers he stuffed into one box score weren't sufficiently unfathomable, also featured a Mavericks comeback against the New York Knicks from nine points down with less than 35 seconds left in regulation.
Wedged in between those historic thunderbolts were scenes I found almost as riveting. LeBron James came to town for that Christmas Day game after the Nowitzki statue ceremony and, with maybe the most overmatched supporting cast around him in any LeBron game I've ever been courtside to see, No. 6 scored his age. James was right there with Dončić if you wanted to spend your holiday arguing with family members about the best player on the floor in Dallas on the NBA's most-watched of regular-season stages.
James was actually still 37 when he rang up those 38 points. He turns 38 today and had me watching every dribble of his pregame shooting routine at American Airlines Center ... wondering what is really going through his head with the Lakers in their current state.
Now that Anthony Davis is nursing a long-term foot injury, LeBron is headed for a third season out of five as a Laker that appears destined to end without a playoff berth. Which would take his ledger to three early vacations and a first-round exit in his Lakerland tenure to dilute the championship that James and Davis teamed up to win in the Walt Disney World bubble in the pandemic-interrupted season of 2019-20.
Family reasons and LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION, as we’ve noted here many times, were the true driving forces that prompted James to leave Cleveland for Hollywood in the summer of 2018. Those are believed to be the same forces that would keep him from urging the Lakers to ship him somewhere that he has an actual chance at ring No. 5. His oldest son Bronny is a high school senior. Another son, Bryce, is a high school sophomore. They’re budding prospects thriving in Southern California. James presumably doesn't want to uproot them.
So he plays on, at a much higher level than any NBA player we've ever seen in his late 30s, dispiriting as it must be to know, deep down, that there will be little to play for in the new year apart from A) collecting the 575 points he needs to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the league's all-time leading scorer and B) winning enough games to ensure that the Lakers don’t win the Victor Wembanyama draft lottery in May and suffer the indignity of sending the rights to select Wemby to New Orleans to satisfy pick-swap conditions left over from the Davis trade.