In an interview ahead of the Christmas Day matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors, LeBron James sat down with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols to talk about the start of the 2018-19 season, recruiting stars to his team and how he reacted to Finals MVP Kevin Durant‘s comments this month.
Rachel Nichols: Merry Christmas, LeBron James.
LeBron James: I appreciate it. Merry Christmas to you, too.
RN: And happy birthday because you are turning 34 just a few days from now. What does it feel like to be in your mid-30s, since you are officially there now?
LJ: Right, right! I mean, it feels good. I’ll tell everybody who’s in their late 20s that the 30s is kind of the best time of your life where you just– you know who you are, you know what you want, you know what doesn’t matter, you have your priorities right. I think in your 20s you’re so much trying to please everybody, or you’re trying too much to please yourself but don’t even know what you want out of yourself. So when you get in your 30s — and beyond — I believe you just, you have everything in place.
RN: One of the things I do love about this phase of your life is seeing “LeBron James, basketball dad.” We saw this great moment with you and your son Bryce the other day. What is it like for you to be able to be with your kids on the basketball court, give them those moments of advice?
LJ: It means everything. I mean, for me, I grew up without a dad, and I can only imagine if those words right there, how I would have been able to digest it. As a kid, sometimes it goes in one ear and out the other ear, but at the end of the day you just wanna do your job as a parent.
I sit down with them at night at times, and we go over their homework and help them, even though the schoolwork these days, it’s a lot different than when I was in school. But just being around them, and being able to tell them what I’m seeing from a distance, and then hopefully they can be able to take it with them not only in that moment but for years to come.
RN: Your family feeling comfortable out here in L.A. was part of the reason that you decided to move here, and you wanted to go to a team you could build a winning culture, but this idea of “I have to go to the most championship-ready team where I can definitely win a title this year,” that wasn’t your first priority. Now you’re a quarter, third of the way through the season, this Lakers team is ahead of schedule on wins. You personally have had a great start to the season. Is there some urgency that if this team has more possibilities than maybe everyone thought this season, well, why don’t we jump and take advantage of it, and make some tweaks, and really try to make a run so we’re not waiting until you’re 35?
LJ: Oh, man, I can’t even — I can’t sit here and lie and say I don’t think about it, the possibilities of what we could possibly have. I’ve stayed away from fantasy basketball, and just kind of lived in the moment because our front office — I trust them. And they know they have a 34-year-old guy who’s playing just as great as anybody in the NBA right now. They not satisfied, either, because I’m not.
“We saw what happened when Shaq came here from Orlando. I mean, that’s what the Lakers do — they go get out the big fish.”
RN: If things don’t work out the way you would want them to this year — if this year, for the first time in nearly a decade, you are not playing in May and June, what do you think that’s gonna feel like?
LJ: I don’t know, it’s gonna be different. I’ve thought about it every year from the time I made the Finals in 2011. You know: I gotta get back to June ’cause I don’t know what to do with those two months. So those thoughts creep up into my mind. Is it, like, OK, is it more training? Which is all I know. Is it more vacation time? But at the end of the day, I prepare my mind, and I prepare my body, and I prepare my game to playing in June. And if it happens, I’ll be ready to go. If not, I’ll be ready to do whatever I need to do to stay prepared for the next season.
LJ: I heard the water out here isn’t too warm, right? I don’t want to fall off that banana boat into this water out here.
RN: You don’t wanna fall off that banana boat again, is what you mean. You can tell America. You don’t wanna fall off it again.
LJ: I never fell — no, that was — they all fell. You all need to get the footage, you got everything else.
RN: So this is a league where, at least in this last half-decade, you need at least two elite players to win a title. Or maybe four or five.
LJ: Or maybe four. Yeah, yeah.
RN: But at least two. On this Lakers team, you’re not only the only elite player, you are the only All-Star. How important is it to you that whether it’s this season, or this summer, this team gets another elite player?
LJ: That would be ideal. And I think you’ve heard, from the front office, what they believe, what we can do. And that’s gonna be my job as well. I’m looking forward to when guys come up for free agency. I’ll be at their doors. I’ll be on their phones, seeing how we can continue to help this franchise become an elite franchise and get back to the mountaintop again.
RN: So you’re gonna recruit because …
LJ: Oh, I’ve always recruited. I’ve always recruited. I don’t know — is this something new? I’ve been recruiting. I’ve been trying to get guys to come play with me since, like, 2007. I’ve got rejected a lot. But I also have not got rejected a lot. A lot of people didn’t wanna come to Cleveland, let me just throw that out there.
RN: So you don’t feel it was you?
LJ: No, I don’t feel that was me. I tried to recruit so many guys to come to Cleveland, and we actually had — I had a couple guys, and it just didn’t work out.
RN: Tell me now, don’t wait for the 30 for 30. Tell me now.
LJ: No, I don’t wanna — I don’t wanna. But it wasn’t hard getting guys in Miami, I’ll tell you that. So now that I think being in L.A., I don’t think it would be that hard to get guys here. But we gotta win. At the end of the day, it’s all about winning. So that’s my job right now is to show everybody that I can win, with whatever.
RN: One of the guys people have loved to put you with is Kevin Durant. He’s got an option to become a free agent this summer. But then he had quotes recently saying that he doesn’t think it’s comfortable for other elite players to play with you. He called the media environment around you “toxic.” What did you think when you heard him say all that?
LJ: I was a little pissed off when I first heard it — to be honest. I didn’t know where it stemmed from. So I was pissed, my family was pissed, and my friends was pissed. We just didn’t know why, at this point and time in the season, my name or what I’ve done in my career was kind of talked about like that. I don’t feel like it’s ever been toxic around me. And when I hear “toxic,” I automatically thought, “toxic” is like you don’t wanna be around that because it’s almost like a fatal disease.
But got a phone call from KD. We talked about it. He mentioned how he felt and how he felt the story took a twist. And as a man, I don’t hold on to things too long. I’m too happy in my life right now, and I don’t hold on to anything that will take away from my happiness.
RN: So how did you two leave that conversation?
LJ: Listen, he told me how he felt, and he apologized on how it came out. And I said, All right. We moved on from there.
RN: Let’s talk about other guys who might want to play with you. You said recently that it would be “amazing” if the Lakers traded for Anthony Davis. Have you talked to Lakers management about putting together a “Godfather” offer to get AD?
LJ: I have not. I have not, to be honest. And it wasn’t brought to me as trading for Anthony Davis; the way it was brought to me was, how would it feel if Anthony Davis was a part of this franchise, and I was, like, duh! It would be amazing. I mean, come on now. Stevie Wonder can see that. Let’s not get it twisted. It would be unbelievable to have a 25-year old superstar in the prime of his career come here. We saw what happened when Shaq came here from Orlando. I mean, that’s what the Lakers do — they go get out the big fish.
RN: The same night that you talked about Anthony Davis, you also said that “obviously” you wanna play with Carmelo Anthony at some point in your career. What do you think it is like to be the general manager of a team you’re on and wake up the next morning to all those quotes?
LJ: I don’t know. I mean, listen, it’s just my opinion. But it’s not like I lit a fire in anybody’s ass. It’s just my opinion. People ask me questions, “Hey, how do you feel …” and you know, I think it would it be great to have Carmelo Anthony be on the Lakers. I believe Melo can still play the game. I believe I can help Melo. I know Melo better than Melo knows himself at times, and vice versa. So if the opportunity presents itself I would welcome it. That’s what it all boils down to.
RN: Speaking of Melo, I want to go through your draft class real quick. No. 1 pick, LeBron James.
RN: Still playing.
LJ: Never heard of him.
RN: Two. Darko Milicic. Kickboxing in Serbia.
LJ: Yeah, I heard about that.
RN: No. 3 pick, Carmelo Anthony, not currently playing. Same for No. 4 pick, Chris Bosh. No. 5, Dwyane Wade, currently doing his last-dance retirement tour. Then let’s go, six through 10: Chris Kaman, Kirk Hinrich, T.J. Ford, Michael Sweetney, Jarvis Hayes. None of them in the NBA anymore. And then here you are …
LJ: So what you saying? Are you calling me old or are you saying I’ve got longevity, Rachel?
RN: … Still playing some of the best basketball of your career. As we sit here right now, you are averaging the most points per game since you were 25 years old, but you are doing it while playing the fewest minutes you have ever played per game.
LJ: Wow. Wow.
RN: So how come Father Time has caught up with all those humans, and not you?
LJ: I don’t know. I’ve always taken care of my body. I’ve always worked 24/7 nonstop. I mean, as long as you’ve known me, you’ve always known me to be very adamant about how my body feels throughout the whole year, not just the season. And then, I don’t know, I’ve beat the odds. I never put a ceiling, or never said how many years I wanna play. I’ve already exceeded that, I guess. I mean, the life expectancy of an NBA player is definitely not 16 years.
RN: Look at the rest of your draft class.
LJ: Yeah, right. So I just never taken it for granted.
RN: I know you’ve seen what I’ve seen, though, which is that some guys are going along fine and then their game just falls off a cliff. Do you worry about that at all?
LJ: No, I don’t. I don’t. Because my game is so multidimensional that I can actually camouflage some parts of my game that could make a decline and actually still be productive, if that makes sense. I can do some things where if certain parts of my game isn’t as effective as they were when I were younger, then I can spice up other parts of my game.
RN: Well, since right now you are a 30-something playing like a 20-something, it doesn’t feel like this contract you’re on with the Lakers for three and a half more years should be your last contract. Because if you played for just a year more than that, with the way it looks like one-and-done is coming out of the NBA …
LJ: Oh, I see what you’re getting to.
RN: You could be playing when your son, LeBron James Jr., could enter the league.
LJ: That would be phenomenal.
RN: You would have to just do one more year after this contract.
LJ: Well, I’m not putting that pressure on him, but I believe, if he continues on the path that he’s on now, he has a very, very good chance. And if I continue doing what I’m doing right now, I’ve got a very good chance, too, and we could meet.
But if I’m, like, sorry, like super trash when he comes into the league, that would be probably my last game. If I’m, like, super sorry, I can’t play super sorry.
RN: So just make it until he plays, and then that’s it, you just walk off the court?
LJ: Yeah, it’ll be, yeah, that’ll be it. That’ll be my last two-step.