Losing takes its toll on LeBron James. This is no secret.
The Los Angeles Lakers great has lamented losing repeatedly while speaking with media in recent weeks. He did so again in a sit-down interview with ESPN’s Dave McMenamin published on Tuesday. This time, the subject came up in the context of James’ personal milestones.
As he approaches the end of his career, only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stands between James and the league’s all-time scoring title. James is on pace to pass the Lakers icon this season. On his way, he’s passed some other giants of the game, most notably Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone. In each of those games that James moved up the scoring list, his Lakers lost.
He spoke about those moments with McMenamin.
“I want to win,” James said. “That’s not sitting well with me. I don’t like having accomplishments, and they don’t feel right when it comes in a losing effort.
“I’ve been trained and born to win. That’s how I started my basketball journey.”
James: Last season’s scoring title chase felt ‘corny’
Last season, James had a shot at the NBA’s season-long scoring title. With Anthony Davis sidelined for much of the season, James picked up the scoring load while averaging 30.3 points per game, the second-highest average of his career. The number had James in contention for his second career scoring title.
Players must play 58 games in an 82 season to qualify for the scoring title, which is based on scoring average rather than total points. With the Lakers eliminated from the playoffs in a 33-49 season, James sat out the Lakers’ last five games and eight of the last 10. Joel Embiid won the scoring title at 30.6 points per game while James ultimately didn’t qualify in a 56-game season.
He told McMenamin that he didn’t want to chase the scoring during meaningless games at the end of a lost season.
“We’re not gonna make the playoffs no matter what,” James continued. “Me being out on the floor trying to go for a scoring record in games that don’t matter — it felt so corny to me. I was like I’m not gonna be able to qualify because I’m not gonna play any of these games.”
The Lakers have rallied this season from a 2-10 start to climb into playoff contention at 19-22. Entering Tuesday’s action, that placed them a game behind the 19-20 Portland Trail Blazers, who would qualify for the West’s final play-in spot as the 10 seed if the season ended today. So there’s hope for the Lakers and James, who’s said on multiple occasions recently that he’s not interested in playing basketball that’s not attached to winning.
“Playing basketball at this level just to be playing basketball is not in my DNA,” James told reporters on Dec. 28. “It’s not in my DNA anymore.”
Those comments arrived after a loss to the Miami Heat franchise he led to two championships. He expressed his frustration in less certain but still transparent terms in an interview with The Athletic’s Sam Amick last week. The subject then was whether the Lakers should trade future draft assets to build a competitive team now with the trade deadline approaching.
“Y’all know what the f*** should be happening,” James told at Amick at the end of the interview. “I don’t need to talk.”
James made an effort to walk the comments back in a tweet.
But the sentiment is crystal clear. James is still playing at an extraordinary level at 38 years old. He’s reaping the statistical rewards of a career filled with success and winning. But he’s doing so on a losing team for a second straight season.
And if the Lakers don’t play themselves into playoff contention, some of these achievements — passing Kareem included — will be accompanied by a bitter taste.
“As we sit here right now as a franchise and a team that’s below .500, we’ve been playing some good basketball as of late,” James told McMenamin. “We wanna — and I want to — win at the highest level.
“Breaking records or passing greats in a losing effort has never been a DNA of mine”