On the cusp of his 20th NBA season, LeBron James isn’t just heading into unprecedented territory, he’s taking turns in it, around it, and everywhere. Putting aside the problematic nature of frontier colonialism, James’ later years begin to look like the Lewis and Clark of basketball longevity.
Two decades later, he’s not just a productive player in the NBA, he’s still one of the best in the entire league and is set to remain the face of one of the league’s flagship franchises in hopes of contend for an 18th league championship.
With only nine other players in NBA history having even reached a 20th season, LeBron’s competition is rare, albeit historic, given the lofty accomplishments these players achieved in their prime years. However, by the time they got to their 20th season, they lacked the special power that had taken them so far in their career in the first place.
Without further ado, here are the nine players in NBA history who have completed two decades as league players, ranked by decreasing win share in that 20th season:
9. Kobe Bryant (-0.4 EC)
Despite releasing what is almost undeniably the greatest conclusion to a playing career in basketball history – one night when I inexplicably bet real US currency that he would score under 27.5 points – Kobe was unquestionably bad in his 20th and final NBA season.
Just years away from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon, Kobe had lost almost all the spring in his step that helped fuel his graceful glides around the court. With less punch under his sweater and a reduced ability to evade athletically superior defenders, Kobe’s stats in his final season were those of a player below replacement level (to borrow baseball parlance).
Most nights this season it was a tough act to watch, but who cares? Handing the keys to Kobe at a time of career decline has cemented the franchise’s relationship with one of its brightest stars, while helping the team improve its fairness in the upcoming draft.
On miserable 36%/29%/83% shooting splits, Kobe averaged 17.6 points per game for Byron Scott’s utterly uncompetitive 17-65 Lakers team, a group whose incompetence ultimately was rewarded with the right to select Brandon Ingram second overall in the 2017 NBA. Draft.
However, in his final game, Bryant was nothing short of sublime, providing basketball fans with an enduring image of the Mamba in all his glory.
8. Kevin Willis (0.0 EC)
In the penultimate season of a career so long he’d be old enough to buy a beer anywhere in the United States, Kevin Willis had minimal impact on his 04-05 Atlanta Hawks. Needing bodies to trust, Willis found a home on the NBA’s worst team this season – for 29 games and five starts – as the Hawks finished 13-69, five games worse than any another franchise that year.
After a year on the couch, Willis returned for one final stint in the NBA at 44, playing in five more games while under a 10-day contract for the Mavs’ 06-07 top spot, before their stunning loss. in the first round against Baron Davis. “We believe” warriors.
7. Jamal Crawford (0.1 EC)
It only lasted six minutes, but Jamal Crawford played his 20th season in the NBA.
Appearing in just one game for the Brooklyn Nets during the 2020 Orlando bubble, Crawford worked his way onto that draft roster but wasted his rare accolade of finishing the previous season with his 50 plays.
6. Moses Malone (1.0)
Although Moses was probably one of the game’s most underrated greats, a series of lower extremity injuries hampered the ‘chairman of the board”s effectiveness after his campaign at the age of 33. year. At 39, Malone was barely hanging on to big league viability, averaging 2.9 points and 8.8 minutes in 19 games for the 1994-95 San Antonio Spurs.
5. Vince Carter (1.2)
The last perimeter player on the roster, Carter has reinvented himself as a 3-D cog after a decade of high-flying dominance in the Atlantic Division. In his 20th season, Carter averaged 17.7 minutes over 57 games, playing a legitimate role at the back of the Sacramento Kings rotation. Incredibly, Carter played two more seasons, eventually retiring at age 43 as a member of the Atlanta Hawks.
4. Robert Parish (1.7 WS)
With the conclusion of 14 Celtics storybook years, a run in which he made nine All-Star Games and won four NBA titles, Robert Parish played the rest of his athletic life outside of Boston. In his second season with the Charlotte Hornets, before a final year with the Bulls, Parish was, like the majority of this list, a small role player at the end of a professional basketball team’s rotation.
On the Hornets 41-41, Parish averaged just under 4 points in under 15 minutes per game. However, surprisingly, the 1995-96 campaign marked Parish’s 20th straight season of at least 72 games played – a pace unlikely to be matched again, especially given the modern game’s growing emphasis on pace. , physics and injury prevention.
3. Kevin Garnett (1.9 WS)
Following one of the worst trades in modern NBA history, one that sent an unprecedented amount of asset drafts for the Celtics’ veteran core, the Nets found themselves adrift without a paddle. . With an expensive and underperforming roster, they had no choice but to tear it down, a process that seemingly culminates in a second-round playoff exit and potentially another takedown.
Midway through the 14-15 season with a 21-31 record, Kevin Garnett waived his no-trade clause to return to Minnesota. Despite only playing two games for Wolves before a knee injury forced him out for the remainder of the season, Garnett returned for a 21st and final season with the team before eventually retiring. Stop.
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2.9 WS)
As the Lakers became the team of Magic Johnson and James Worthy, Kareem gracefully aged in a supporting role on a still-dominant Showtime team. As the fifth leading scorer in his 20th and final season on a team that was ultimately swept away by the Pistons in the 1989 Finals, Kareem had become a productive, but severely limited player from his all-time dominating peak. at the very end. of his NBA life.
1. Dirk Nowitzki (4.8 CE)
Somewhat surprisingly, Old Man Dirk was the most statistically productive player in his 20th season in NBA history. In the season leading up to his last, Dirk put up a thoroughly respectable 12 points in 25 minutes per game on shot splits that were tenths of a percent off 50%/40%/90%. Although he didn’t help much on the defensive end, his ability to stretch the floor and slide the boards at a decent clip made him a more than viable player, even when his days of killing opponents in the middle of the post were long behind him. .
Winning actions are an archaic and mostly outdated metric of impact, but as an easily sortable and publicly available metric on the eminently useful BasketballReference.com site, it does more than enough as a rough approximation of overall value at the over the course of a season to generally estimate productivity. a player was.
If LeBron is able to produce at a level even remotely comparable to the worst of his previous 19 campaigns, he will completely blow his 20-year-old competition.
In 19 seasons to date, LeBron has never posted worse than 5.1 WS, a total that came in his rookie year, and is coming off a season in which he finished with 7.5 in just 56 matches. If his recent play is any indication of what LeBron has in store for 20, he’ll be at the top of this list by the end of the season if he plays even half the games and s ‘he’s lucky to stay a bit healthier than he was. in the past two years, he could even double Dirk’s mark.
After signing a new two-year extension that will keep him with the Lakers for at least two more seasons — and a player option for the third and second years of that new contract — LeBron has shown few physical or emotional signs that he’s ready to hang them up anytime soon.
But no matter how long he stays there, he’ll be statistically off the charts soon enough — especially with Kareem’s all-time regular season record on the horizon — if he isn’t already.
Cooper is a lifelong Laker fan who also covered the Yankees at SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley — no, he’s not a Cowboys fan, too. You can hear it on the Lakers Multiverse Podcast and find him on Twitter at @cooperhalpern.