LeBron James says he hopes to end career as member of Lakers

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Monday, February 19, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS -- LeBron James, speaking before his record-setting 20th NBA All-Star Game appearance, stated the obvious Sunday when he said he's much closer to the end of his brilliant career than he is to the beginning.

While the 39-year-old James claims to not have a precise plan in place for what the final stage of his playing days will look like, he said he does have a preference: Suiting up for the purple and gold as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

"I am a Laker and I'm happy and been very happy being a Laker the last six years and hopefully it stays that way," James said. "But I don't have the answer to how long it is or which uniform I'll be in. Hopefully [it] is with the Lakers. It's a great organization, so many greats. But we'll see."

James arrived at All-Star Weekend on Sunday, rather than Saturday like the rest of the All-Stars, because he was seeking treatment on his left ankle that caused him to sit out L.A.'s last game before the break -- a 138-122 win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

"Trying to get my ankle as strong and as back to where I feel confident that I can finish off this last third of the season," James said. "I won't be playing the entire game tonight, for sure. I can get out there and run around with the young guys for a little bit and then shut it down at some point to give my body, and my ankle more importantly, another opportunity to rest."

James said he would leave Indianapolis to travel to receive more medical attention on his left ankle before L.A.'s next game, Thursday on the road against the Golden State Warriors.

"The most important thing for me is definitely my health, where I'm at right now, where our team is leaning," James said. "We're trending in the right direction.

"Obviously, with our Laker team, it's been about health all year. Trying to do what's best for me for the betterment of the team."

It was a significant endorsement by James for his team, which has won six of its past seven. It was only a couple of weeks ago when he was posting a cryptic hourglass emoji to social media in the middle of the night and saying he didn't know what he would do with his player option for the 2024-25 season -- which will be his 22nd in the league.

James' apparent discontent motivated Draymond Green to encourage Warriors owner Joe Lacob to call Lakers owner Jeanie Buss to inquire about trading for the four-time champion, sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne.

Buss, according to the ESPN report, directed Lacob to speak to James' agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, to discuss the star's desire to be traded. Buss places importance on her star players feeling content with the franchise, according to the report. Paul rebuffed Lacob's trade attempt, informing him that his client was not interested.

His comments about being "happy" Sunday certainly was a public way to answer any lingering questions Buss might have about James' mindset.

Appearing on set with the hosts of TNT's "Inside the NBA" prior to tipoff, James said he was unaware of the Warriors' attempt.

"I actually heard about it when everybody else heard about it," James said. "Sometimes there's conversations that happen behind closed doors that you don't even know about it. And I guess until it's real or not, then they'll bring it to you. But it never even got to me."

James also told "Inside" that his eldest son, Bronny James, has not determined yet whether he will enter the NBA draft at the conclusion of his freshman season with USC.

"It's up to him, it's up to the kid," James said. "We're going to go through the whole process. He's still in season now. He has the Pac-12 tournament coming up. ... We're going to weigh all options and we're going to let the kid make the decision."

TNT's Kenny Smith joked that Bronny would not feel pressure to leave college early to earn an NBA salary considering his family's wealth, and James laughed, saying, "It's definitely not financial."

James' immediate challenge in L.A. is assuring that, at 30-26 and currently No. 9 in the Western Conference, the Lakers secure a playoff berth. Beyond that, he reiterated his intention to play for Team USA at the Paris Olympics this summer.

"I told myself before the season when I committed to being a part of the Olympic team, obviously it was all predicated on my health," he said. "As it stands right now, I am healthy enough to be on the team and perform at a level that I knew I could perform at."

James said that when he does play his final NBA season, the pomp and circumstance surrounding that transition is still to be determined.

"I was asked this question a couple days ago," James said. "'Will you kind of take the farewell tour, or will you kind of just Tim Duncan it?'

"I'm 50-50, I'm going to be honest, because there's times when I feel like I guess I owe it to my fans that have been along this journey with me for two decades plus, to be able to give them that moment where it's every city and whatever the case may be and they give you your flowers or whatever the case may be. That seems cool.

"But the other side of that, I've never been that great with accepting like praise. It's a weird feeling for me."

It will be a weird feeling for everyone associated with the NBA, too.

"I don't know how it's going to end, but it's coming," James said. "It's coming, for sure."

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