Adapted from Kai Hsu’s Quora answer of the title question
At the time of writing this, LeBron is 34 years old and will need six or so more years to reach his 40s.
Historically, only 27 NBA players have played into their 40s. You can see a list of these players here. Only 10 of these 27 players played 41 or older. Only five players played at the age of 42 or older (Note: Vince Carter may soon join this list!). Out of the thousands of players that have logged any minutes at all in the NBA, this is a remarkably short list.
That being said, here are factors that make LeBron playing into his 40s a realistic possibility:
Rest and Recovery Strategies
- LeBron reportedly spends $1.5 million per year on his body. This includes modern developments such as cryotherapy, hyperbaric chambers, and NormaTec leg boots
- Some of these efforts are related to improving recovery from games/training as well as avoiding injuries
- He has someone who helps him with biomechanics to improve posture and avoid back problems
- He practices yoga to remain flexible and avoid injuries
- LeBron has a very strict diet and training regimen
- He seems to naturally have very good biomechanics
- “This body position allows LeBron to use gratuitous forces like gravity, ground reaction force (GFR) and muscle-tendon elasticity to his advantage to engage his body weight into the action of moving. Consequently it allows him to reduce muscular tension and impact on all support tissues.” –Dr. Nicholas Romanov
- LeBron’s body and genetics are already remarkable:
Seeing him turn his ankle nearly 90 degrees only to tighten his shoelaces and finish with a triple-double. Watching him show up four hours before a playoff game to get in a sweat-soaked workout, then play more than 40 minutes and score 40 points. And the topper: the time James gained seven pounds during an Eastern Conference finals game.
- His best season (thus far) was arguably at age 33, his 15th season in the NBA. Assuming his production gracefully tapers off, he will be an elite player for years to come
- He has not experienced any major lower leg injuries thus far in his career
- LeBron is constantly learning and adapting his game
- He went from being a drive-first forward to a deadly post-up player with a serviceable three pointer. His play style is not entirely dependent on his athleticism
- LeBron has phenomenal memory and understanding of basketball
- He has a personal goal of wanting to play with his oldest son in the NBA.
- His oldest son is currently 14. LeBron’s son will be 19 and draft-eligible (NBA currently stipulates that drafted players must be one year removed from high school) in time for the 2024-25 season, in which LeBron would be 39 years old. This is in the realm of possibility
- Future injuries are always a possibility and unpredictable.
- Will he be able to accept becoming a bench player or role player?
- This will certainly help him find a roster spot on an NBA team when he can no longer contribute as a star player
- Drop off: When will his skills and body start diminishing? How fast will this drop off occur?
- The “rate of fall off” can be very unpredictable like in the case of Carmelo Anthony
- How will his body respond to playing in the NBA at 40 and beyond?
Factors working against him:
- As a forward, LeBron often times has to bruise with power forwards and centers. This causes more stress and damage on his body that will only get worse with age. This could increase recovery time as well as the chances he is more seriously injured
- If he continues to be on teams contending for championships, he will continue to play around 100 games in an entire season (82 regular season games, likely 10+ postseason games). More time playing increases the chance of injury
- Minor injuries that pile up over the seasons
- Overall, LeBron has been fairly healthy. That being said, here is a list of injuries from 2015 he had to work through
- Here’s a list of his injuries he’s suffered in the postseason
- Injuries like rolled ankles, lower back issues, and knee problems have a tendency to linger and zap strength and explosiveness
Overall, it seems that LeBron is doing everything he can to tip the odds in his favor that he will play into his 40s. Combined with his natural physical and genetic gifts, I say the odds are quite good that LeBron James clocks in at least one game at the age of 40. Looking at historical players who have played in their 40s, most of them seem to drop out shortly after hitting 40 or 41. As a result, I would say LeBron James playing past the age of 41 are significantly lower than the chances he plays at the age of 40.