Opinion: Is LeBron James going downhill?

Ray Strickland

The Cleveland Cavaliers NBA season kicked off on Tuesday night with a loss against the Chicago Bulls. LeBron James scored a quiet 25 points and 10 rebounds, but neither his performance nor the Cavaliers loss was the least of the team’s concerns. 

The questions and chatter surrounding the health of James’ back did not die after the loss against the Bulls, but only began to grow louder. 
James was seen jogging to the Cavaliers’ bench, heading not for a seat alongside his teammates, but to the floor to alleviate the back pain he may had been experiencing.
His performance against the Grizzlies on Wednesday didn’t help, either. Despite the Cavs’ blowing out Memphis by 30 points, James only penciled in 12 points on 4-13 shooting from the field.
LeBron doesn’t seemed to be bothered about the concern about his back and has told the media, “he’s ready to play.”
“I haven’t gotten to this point by cheating the game,” the four-time MVP said at practice. ”If I’m capable of practicing, I will practice. If I’m capable of playing, I’ll play. When I’m not, I’ll quit. The game has gave too much for me to ever cheat the game. That’s not how I was born. That’s not how I was taught.”
The Cavaliers superstar has logged more than 43,000 minutes in 12 NBA seasons. Last year, James missed a career-high 13 games because of his plaguing back and knee injuries that could only heal with rest. 
James, 30, missed five of the seven Cavaliers’ preseason games as part of something he called “regular maintenance.” He received an anti-inflammatory shot in his back on Oct. 13 and missed a large chunk of practice time because of it. 
I find it hard to believe I’m writing an article about the health of a guy who is seen as the NBA’s most athletic and most durable player. What surprises me even more is the sight of James heading straight to the hardwood, instead of the bench, which is reminiscent of Larry Bird and Steve Nash’s battle with back injuries throughout their career.
Bird, who is arguably the best small forward in NBA history, had his career cut short due to back issues. Nash, who became an MVP after signing with the Phoenix Suns, also had his career come to an unflattering end with the Lakers due to back trouble.
As LeBron enters his 13th NBA season, many are beginning to wonder how many years LeBron has left in the tank at an elite level.
In my humble opinion, I do not see James being any less than himself, unless his back is more serious than anticipated. James is the league’s unquestioned best player and he’s considered a top 10 player of all time by many people in the NBA annals. 
With all of what I said considered, I believe James can and will continue to be the best player in the NBA for years to come.
James has been selected to the All-Star game 11 times, won four league MVP’s and two NBA championships. James tallied his worst numbers since his rookie season last year, averaging 25 points per game, six rebounds and seven assist, but his performance in the finals silenced any doubt on James self-declared “best player in the world” status.
But if you are going to doubt anyone and their ability to remain healthy and dominant, you better not bet against LeBron James. 
So if anyone says James is going downhill and not the game’s best player, I challenge them to give me a player (outside of James Jones and the ’60s Celtics) who has been to five straight NBA finals.
You can’t bet against that.
Ray Strickland is an opinion writer for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].