For oddsmakers, the fact that the Lakers have lost eight of their last 11 outings and, in the process, tumbled to seventh in the highly competitive Western Conference matters little. As far as they’re concerned, there is no cause to change betting variables that place the defending champions first or second on the list of legitimate contenders for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. While previous action on tickets favoring the purple and gold no doubt forces bookies to hold the line off the court, the biggest reason is most definitely on it — or, to be more precise, about to be on it.
If the rumor mill is to be believed, LeBron James will be returning to action today against the Knicks following a four-game absence due to injury. Based on his performance in yesterday’s practice session, he appears to be good to go, and without the restraints that hitherto hampered his mobility. After having been out a full six weeks due to a high ankle sprain, he suited up in setbacks against the Kings and Raptors to start the month – wrongly, as things turned out, leading to his second sidelining for the season.
For all the concerns James’ absences — the most in a given campaign through his 20-year career — raise, there is, on the flipside, ample evidence to underscore that he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Not for nothing is he deemed A1 or A2 in the tally of the sport’s greatest players. Never mind that the very factor that has fueled his success — his longevity — is precisely what seems to be in question; if nothing else, recent developments have seen him becoming increasingly susceptible to the ravages of age.
Which, for all intents, should come as no surprise, even for James. Father Time loses to no man, and he’s an old 36 with a whopping 49,999 regular-season minutes played. His aggregates, including 10,811 minutes in the playoffs, are trumped only by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s, who set up shop mostly in the post. And yet few dare question his capacity to deliver as the Lakers prep for their title defense from a decidedly vulnerable position.
Whether or not the Lakers, starring James, do merit their lofty status remains to be seen. That said, his body of work, and their success with him at the helm, is not up for discussion. If they believe they continue to have the capacity to frame their future despite their recent missteps, it’s because they’ve already stared at adversity first hand and conquered it on the ultimate stage.
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.