EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The last time LeBron James formally spoke to reporters, he hinted at retirement at the end of his news conference before sauntering into an offseason of sudden uncertainty.
On Monday, 133 days later, at the Los Angeles Lakers’ media day ahead of the 2023-24 season, James finally addressed why he returned for his 21st season.
“I feel like I got a lot more in the tank to give,” James said matter-of-factly.
James, who will turn 39 in December, added that he decided to come back after weeks of self-reflection and discussion with his family, as well as watching his two sons, Bronny and Bryce, play basketball this summer.
Bronny, who suffered a cardiac arrest during a USC basketball workout in July, is “doing extremely well” and had a successful surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., according to James, who said he’s going to dedicate his season to Bronny.
“He has (begun) his rehab process to get back on the floor this season with his teammates and USC,” James said. “And it was a successful surgery that he had, but he’s on the up and up. It’s definitely a whirlwind and a lot of emotions for our family this summer. But the best thing we have is each other. And we stuck behind each other and gave Bronny strength throughout the whole process and we’re happy to see where he is today and we look forward to seeing what his future still has in store for him.”
As for his own future, James, who has a $51.4 million player option for the 2024-25 season, said he isn’t ready to commit to basketball beyond this season.
“I don’t know,” James said in response to a question about whether this could be his final season. “I don’t know.”
When asked to expand on that answer, James replied while shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head.
“No, I can’t, because I don’t know,” James said. “I’m happy right now. I’m excited. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and getting training camp going and getting going. But I don’t know what the end of this road looks like, or at the end of the season. I have no idea.”
James, who has been strongly interested in representing the U.S. men’s Olympic team again and has been recruiting other stars, wouldn’t commit to playing in the 2024 Olympics either.
“I do have interest,” James said. “We’ll see what happens. But as far as physical toll, I don’t know, we’ll see how I feel at the end of the season. But from the players that we have here that I can think of off of the top of my head that could fill that roster up, I don’t think it would be too much of a physical toll. I wouldn’t have to do much. I mean, rebound a little bit, pass a little bit, defend, block some shots, you know. But we’ll see. We’ll see what happens.”
`We’ve re-established the competitive gene’: Lakers embrace expectations after productive summer
James proved last season that he could still perform at an elite level, averaging 28.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.8 assists in the regular season. But for the third straight season, and fourth time in his five seasons in Los Angeles, James suffered a major injury, tearing a tendon in his right foot in late February. James has missed 111 games over his five Lakers seasons due to injury, a stark contrast to the 71 he missed due to injury in his first 15 seasons in the NBA.
After multiple consultations, including with someone he dubbed the “LeBron of feet,” James returned four weeks later, with eight games remaining in the regular season, and helped the Lakers earn the No. 7 seed. James, Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves and a deep supporting cast that was revamped at the trade deadline propelled the Lakers past the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies and the defending champion Golden State Warriors in six games apiece. But the Lakers ran into the buzz saw that was the Denver Nuggets, who swept Los Angeles in the Western Conference finals en route to winning their first championship.
In Game 4 of the series, James posted a near-40-point-triple-double — 40 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists — in a Herculean effort that just wasn’t enough. He said that made him contemplate his basketball outlook.
“At that moment, I didn’t (know if I had anything left),” James said. “I was exhausted. I was tired. Mentally, I was in too many different places, mentally. And that’s what drew that comment. Or that statement. Because that’s just how I felt at the moment. But I’m happy to be returning for another season and helping this team, hopefully, get this team to the Finals. That’s just the goal.”
James didn’t disclose whether he had surgery on his foot this summer, following through on comments he made upon returning near the end of the 2022-23 regular season, At the time, James said, “If I happen to get surgery after the season, you guys won’t know. I don’t talk to you guys in the offseason, and by the time the next season starts, I’ll be fine and ready to go.” He did, however, make it clear that treating his foot was his primary basketball priority this offseason.
“This summer has been a lot about rehabbing that and getting that back to where it needs to be,” James said. “But my foot has been reacting very well on my offseason workouts. Looking forward to seeing how it reacts during training camp and all preseason going into the regular season. Excited to see where I am as it stands today.”
The Lakers plan to manage James’ minutes and workload more than in previous seasons. Lakers head coach Darvin Ham said last week that the organization is aiming to be more efficient with James’ “game-to-game minutes, the big picture, month-to-month, different sections in the calendar.”
As reductive as it may sound, the Lakers’ championship aspirations will likely be determined by James’ health and ability to continue producing as a top-10 player. In agreeing to return for his 21st season, James essentially confirmed he believes he can do so.
Even as James’ age begins to show — James is now sporting a salt-and-pepper look as his trademark buzzcut fade is graying — he is confident that he can stave off Father Time for at least one more season.
“I feel different,” James said. “I’m not a 21-year-old, that’s for sure. Feels a little different getting out of bed every day. But as far as my energy level, I feel pretty good.”
(Top photo: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)