THE GREAT American polymath Benjamin Franklin is often quoted as saying, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” If Franklin had been alive today, he may have recognised a third dead cert: LeBron James turning back the clock year after year to deliver highlight reel plays and break long-standing records. LeBron is returning for a 21st season, with one key difference. The man known as ‘King James’ is changing his jersey number from 6 to 23, in honour of the legendary Bill Russell.
LeBron has always had a flair for the dramatic. The 38-year-old famously announced his decision to sign with the Miami Heat in a widely broadcast television special, and he clearly hasn’t lost his passion for spectacle over the years. On stage at the 2023 ESPYs to accept the award for ‘Record-Breaking Performance’, which he won after becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer this year, LeBron dispelled rumours of his impending retirement and announced he would return for the 2023-24 NBA season.
LeBron made it clear he has the physical and athletic capabilities to continue playing, even if he’s no longer a perennial MVP frontrunner. “I don’t care how many more points I score, or what I can or cannot do on the floor,” he began. “The real question for me is: can I play without cheating this game? The day I can’t give everything on the floor is the day I’ll be done,” he continued, pausing for emphasis. “Lucky for you guys, that day is not today.” It’s clear LeBron isn’t staving off retirement because he’s trying to secure another lucrative contract. After all, having recently became a billionaire, he likely doesn’t need the extra cash.
Showing no signs of what he calls “cheating the game”, LeBron will make one key change ahead of the upcoming NBA season. The Los Angeles Laker is switching back to the number 23 jersey, having worn number six for the past three seasons. To anyone who recently splashed some cash on a LeBron number six jersey, you have our sympathy.
Why is LeBron James changing his number?
After Bill Russell passed away last year, the NBA retired the number six across the league. But players who were already wearing number six were allowed to continue doing so. LeBron was one of those select few players and continued wearing the number last season. Now, out of respect for Russell, LeBron is permanently moving away from the number and won’t be able to change his mind again.
Why was Bill Russell so important?
Bill Russell has more championship rings than he can fit on each finger and is commonly called the GOAT in basketball history. Russell was the NBA’s first African-American superstar and won 11 NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, two college championships, five MVP awards, and the Finals MVP trophy is named after him. In addition to his legacy as an athlete, Russell was an outspoken activist in the fight against social injustice and racism.
When will LeBron James retire?
While LeBron has put a stop to rumours of his retirement, he is also the person who started them. After his Lakers were eliminated in last year’s playoffs by eventual NBA champions the Denver Nuggets, LeBron revealed he wasn’t certain about his future and was mulling retirement. “We’ll see what happens going forward, I’ve got a lot to think about to be honest, going forward with the game of basketball,” he said at the time.
So is this LeBron’s final year in the NBA? That seems unlikely. Last week, LeBron’s agent Rich Paul said he believes his top client could play until his mid-40s, akin to his NFL counterpart Tom Brady. Lebron himself has previously expressed a desire to stay in the NBA until he plays with his son, Bronny, who will play college basketball this year. The junior James is eligible to be drafted as early as next year and is projected as a mid-first-round pick. If his oldest son joins the league, it could eventually spell the end for King James.
Is LeBron James slowing down?
At 38 years of age, LeBron James is still one of the NBA’s premier players. LeBron averaged 28.9 points, 6.8 assists and 8.3 rebounds per game last season and led the Lakers to the Western Conference Finals.
While he’s still stuffing the stat sheet, LeBron has dealt with increased injury issues in recent years. Since joining the Laker’s five years ago, LeBron has only played more than 60 games in a season on a single occasion. Basketball is clearly taking a heavier toll on the aging LeBron and he’s already the second oldest player in the NBA. But whether he retires tomorrow or in five years’ time, LeBron has racked up countless accolades, garnered fans from across the globe and will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest to ever do it.