There’s no question that LeBron James continues to be the National Basketball Association’s most influential star. Even at an old 36 and close to the end of a distinguished career, he remains the biggest name on the marquee. He once again led all players in All-Star votes, and his jersey is number one in sales. Even his “moments” are the most coveted; he has the top four and six of the top eight Top Shot collectibles. Meanwhile, he’s the engine that makes the Lakers, defending champions, run smoothly. His on-off numbers are among the highest in the league, with the purple and gold a decided net negative in his absence.
Which, in a nutshell is why the needle moved significantly following news of James’ indefinite sidelining due to a high ankle sprain he suffered in the second quarter of the Lakers’ match against the Hawks over the weekend. The type of injury he sustained typically takes weeks from which to recover, and bookmakers wasted no time lowering the odds on both a title repeat and a Most Valuable Player campaign. The jury’s still out on whether the changes are justified. That said, head coach Frank Vogel’s charges — or, to be more precise, remaining charges — will have to stay afloat in the absence of their acknowledged leader.
For the Lakers, plodding on without All-Star Anthony Davis is bad enough; since exiting their encounter with the Nuggets last month, he has been unable to suit up due to tendinosis and a right calf strain. Getting by without James is infinitely worse. No eyebrows were raised when they went on to lose to the Hawks, and then to the Suns in their next outing. Then again, the real battles begin in the playoffs, when the two are fully expected to be ready and geared to go deep. The four-time Finals MVP’s resume is littered with postseason success following seemingly unremarkable regular-season stands.
To be sure, James was far from happy to be decommissioned by a freak accident. He was bummed that he needed to be away from the floor for an indefinite period. The flipside: he’s known for recovering quickly. Not for nothing has he missed more than 10 games in a given campaign only twice since he was chosen first overall in the 2003 draft. He himself alluded to his commitment to return as fast as he can, noting in Tweet that he will be “back soon like I never left.” He better, because the Lakers will go only so far as he can take them.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.