Heading into the 15th season of his NBA career at 32 years old, LeBron James is going to have to carry even more weight for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
With the departure of Kyrie Irving and the injury to Isaiah Thomas, James will have to take on more playmaking and perhaps even more scoring.
And amazingly, there's little concern about how James will handle it.
The NBA has never seen a player like James — a 6-foot-8 physical force with a high basketball IQ and few weaknesses in his game. Making him even rarer is longevity. His talent and athleticism are still unmatched, even in what should be the back half of his prime. Last season, his 14th in the NBA, James averaged career highs in rebounds and assists per game while shooting above his career averages from the field and three.
James' sustained excellence boils down to his unrivaled work ethic — and, specifically, the care he gives to his body.
Anyone with a relationship with James says he takes immaculate care of his body. Kevin Durant once told Bill Simmons about James' dedication to his health.
"One thing I learned about LeBron — I worked out with him — LeBron takes care of his body," Durant said. "He knows that in order for him to play that long, his body has to be up. He has to keep that in shape. Like, he works on his body, like, religiously."
Durant said that while James worked on his skills, he dedicated much of his time to staying in tip-top shape.
James' longevity is even more incredible when considering the tremendous workload he has carried during his career. James has made the playoffs in 12 of his 14 seasons and is on a streak of seven straight Finals appearances. He hasn't had a season that ended before June since 2010. He's logged the 28th-most regular-season minutes in NBA history and is second all-time in playoff minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.
His former teammate Mike Miller told Bleacher Report's David Cassilo last year that James treat his fitness and health as an investment — one that will surely pay off down the line.
"Where a lot of people don't do it, he puts a lot of money behind taking care of his body," Miller said. "A lot of people think it's a big expense, but that big expense has allowed him to make a lot more money for a long period of time."
According to Cassilo, James was one of the first players with a cryochamber. He gets massages several times a week.
In 2015, Ken Berger pulled back the curtains on James' body preparation. After games, Berger reported, James does things like drink electrolyte-rich drinks, take ice baths, and receive electrostimulation. He wears compression sleeves and tights on flights to keep his blood flowing.
Even James' teammates, the people around him every day, say they are amazed by his reservoir of energy and athleticism.
Iman Shumpert told Complex this summer that James often participated in dunk contests with him, throwing the ball off the wall, going through the legs, and more.
"We'll be in the middle of warming up, and 'Bron will—" Shumpert said, cutting himself off and imitating a windmill dunk. Shumpert said James would ask: "Bro, you warm already?" "Don't you got three kids?" "You don't feel that in your knees kinda?"
Shumpert added that James prioritized rest, recovery, and health over everything else.
"He just takes care of his body," Shumpert said. "He's got his trainers there. He put that ice on right after the game — he gonna sit there. Like, people may think it's diva-ish, but that man will get his treatment and be late. 'I'll be late to this event, even though y'all paid me all this money to be here. Because I gotta do everything I gotta do to make sure I preserve my body so I can do this tomorrow.'"
In 2015, James had arguably the biggest physical setback of his career. In the middle of January, while both he and the Cavs were struggling, James took two weeks off to rehabilitate his back, which had been giving him problems. ESPN's Brian Windhorst later reported that James had received anti-inflammatory shots for his back and that the Cavs wanted him to take time off to recover.
Richard Jefferson told Simmons on a podcast that when he arrived in Cleveland in 2015, James' back was still giving him problems. Jefferson said he recommended "biomechanics," or core strengthening, to James, and he thinks it's taken James' career to a new level.
By the looks of it, James is still into it:
It's unclear how much longer James can continue to play at this level, but thus far there's been no indication that he's close to slowing down.
James hasn't said he wants to play into his 40s, à la Tom Brady, but it's not hard to imagine him considering the possibility. Both players are serious about taking care of their bodies, and as a result, both are on top of their sports.
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