MCCULLERS COLUMN: LeBron, better than ever, is nevertheless running out of time

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It seems borderline blasphemous to even speak of such a day now, but the time will come when LeBron James will cease to be the LeBron James we’ve become all too accustomed to seeing.

He will no longer soar through the air and fly up and down the court to the amazement of all lucky enough to witness. His hulking 6-foot-8, 250-pound frame will become increasingly susceptible to the injuries that James has been able to avoid to this point in his career. He will, in short, no longer be the greatest player alive.

The mystery, then, is not only when such a day will arrive, but how we as observers of the NBA will treat his career in retrospect when that time inevitably comes.

LeBron’s legacy as one of the greatest players to ever step on the court is already well-established.

How convincing his case for the label of the greatest ever will be is still very much to be determined. And, though you wouldn’t know it by his performances all season, including the two thus far in the playoffs, his time to make that case is running out.

The one man LeBron is widely considered to still be chasing — Michael Jordan — won his final NBA title and MVP award in 1998 at age 34.

James, now 33, still sits three NBA titles and an MVP award shy of His Airness, though he very well could match Jordan’s MVP total when this season’s award is given out on June 25.

The championships, however, are a different matter altogether.

The three additional titles to Jordan’s name (and LeBron’s 3-5 record in the NBA Finals compared to Jordan’s 6-0 mark) are the best argument left for those who maintain M.J. is better than James.

Of course, it would be ludicrous to claim that King James’ disappointing record in the Finals is all his fault. Much of it is not.

But that’s why the part of his legacy that has yet to be written hinges largely on the decision he makes this summer upon entering free agency.

James has been as good as ever recently, but he’s also been forced to carry a bigger load than ever. LeBron has led the league in minutes in back-to-back seasons, a first since his age 20 season in Cleveland.

All that work yielded him another NBA Finals loss last year and the No. 4 seed in the East this season, which will likely also end without a title.

James would be chided for jumping ship after this season for a younger team such as the 76ers or Lakers, on which he could take some weight off during the regular season and still maintain his pursuit of championships.

Carrying less of the load would also assist him in prolonging his prime, which has lasted far longer than normal already.

LeBron could use the help, and soon. Because as dominant as he’s consistently been, Father Time catches up to even the best.

Even a King cannot rule forever.

Evan McCullers is a sports reporter and columnist for the Daily Inter Lake. He can be contacted by phone at (406) 758-4463 or by email at emccullers@dailyinterlake.com.

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