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LeBron James' longevity and consistency will define him in the end as Los Angeles Lakers push for another title

Remarkable for a player of his extraordinary athletic gifts and intelligence, it is LeBron James' longevity and consistency that continues to define him.

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James dribbles against the Detroit Pistons during an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

If you were to describe LeBron James to a person who had never seen a game of basketball before, or no awareness of the sport, I am not sure you would be able to do it. Where do you start?

Oh, here's a guy built like an upright cargo jet with the footspeed of a wide receiver, the grace and poise of a gymnast and the deftness of touch of a sculptor. He has the same calm intelligence as a chess grandmaster, or a Number 10.

He's also 36, in his 18th season and has only ever suffered one major injury - a groin issue in 2018/19 that kept him out for... 17 games. That's it. That's the longest amount of time he's ever missed.

Beyond that, he's been as ever-present in the NBA as the hoops and the hardwood, averaging roughly 27 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists season in and season out. For some players, that stat line would represent the best night of their careers. For LeBron it's the minimum expectation, the same way you do not question whether the sun will rise in the morning. You know it will. You rely on it to.

It's something of a running joke now that he has not slowed down given, you know, the natural biological consequences of ageing and the fact James has played over 60,000 minutes of professional basketball, including playoffs.

To put that into perspective, you can combine the regular-season minutes of Lou Williams (34, 17th season) and J.J. Redick (36, 16th season), two other league stalwarts, and you would still have less than LeBron's regular-season total.

In fact, over the past three games LeBron has averaged 40 minutes and played four overtimes. The Lakers have won all three, including Wednesday night's 114-113 defeat of the Oklahoma City Thunder in which James hit the crucial three-pointer to send the game to an extra period, before then making a clutch steal on an inbounds play with four seconds remaining to secure the win.

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Once again: this man is 36, in his 18th season, having played over 60,000 minutes in the NBA. There are paintings, fine wines, listed buildings and BitCoin traders envious of how LeBron James is ageing.

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Highlights of the Oklahoma City Thunder's trip to the Los Angeles Lakers in Week 8 of the NBA

Yet, typically when we talk of an athlete's longevity, consistency and endurance, it usually comes at the cost of something else: the genuine ability to thrill. Take James Milner and Gareth Barry from the world of football for instance, two metronomes of the modern game but players who did not so much set the world alight as slowly and continuously drill right through to its core.

While they were undoubtedly exciting, dynamic and fearless in their youth, their permanence is what came to define them. The same for the likes of Tim Duncan, Jason Kidd, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Andre Iguodala in basketball. These are players we probably remember not for doing absurd things well into their 30s, but simply for still being there. Over time that tends to take on a remarkable quality in and of itself.

In our mind's eye we picture them as the grizzled veterans they became rather than the baby-faced destroyers of worlds they all once were during their ascendency.

LeBron James is different in many ways, but most startling is not that he can still do the things he has always done, from bulldozing straight through opponents to the rim or leaping out of the building to swat a shot into the rafters.

Most startling of all is that - somehow - he is still finding ways of improving on something already pretty close to basketball perfection.

This is probably the right moment to mention that LeBron is now one of the best snipers in the league, canning 39 per cent of his seven attempted threes per game. Those are almost Klay Thompson-level numbers. As per StatMuse, he is also averaging more points, rebounds, minutes, less turnovers and better field-goal, three-point and free-throw percentages than last season.

At what point do you give up waiting for the slump to come and just accept that this is it now, for eternity? That in a billion years when the Earth's surface heats, the oceans evaporate and all other life ceases to exist, only then will LeBron stop scoring 27 points a night, threading eye of needle passes and orchestrating another odd-parts and loose ends championship contender.

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LeBron James provided two brilliant assists for his team-mates as the Los Angeles Lakers eased past the Denver Nuggets

Tom Brady, understandably, has been the major talking point in the sporting world this week after winning his seventh Super Bowl at the age of 43. The most tiresome debate imaginable has once again reared its ugly head as the clickbait sites ask once and for all, until next month, who is the GOAT of the GOATs, the champion of champions. That misses the point of sport entirely. Brady's feats are staggering precisely because you cannot feasibly compare them to anything else that has happened before, in any sport, or even in any other aspect of life.

The same goes for LeBron. His career exists as a refutation of accepted truths. Of what the human body can do and what it can't. How long it can go on for. To contextualise him is impossible. You might wonder what the point is. Precisely that.

This is just another article, on another day, the morning after the night before when LeBron James put up 25 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists and won a game of basketball. Again.

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