With 49,996 minutes played in the regular season and playoffs in his career, LeBron James is on the verge of becoming the 18th player in NBA history to reach 50,000 career minutes. The previous 17 are either Hall of Famers or sure-fire future Hall of Famers.
At 32 years old, James will be the youngest player to reach 50,000 career minutes. Kobe Bryant was 33 when he reached this threshold, and the next-youngest was Wilt Chamberlain, who reached 50,000 at 35 years old.
Although James has sat out regular-season games, he has played 77.2 percent of all possible minutes in his career. That’s a higher percentage than Michael Jordan (74.7 percent) and Bryant (65.1 percent).
In fairness, Bryant played 71.0 percent of his team’s total minutes until the final three seasons of his career, when he struggled with injuries, most notably a torn Achilles in April 2013. Bryant missed 139 of the Lakers’ 246 games in his final three seasons.
The longest stretch of consecutive games James has missed in his career is eight, from December 2014 to January 2015, because of a sore left knee. That eight-game stretch is one of three in which James has missed four or more consecutive games. James’ teams were 1-16 in those 17 games without him.
Playing a lot of minutes is nothing new to James. He’s averaged 38.9 minutes per regular-season game in his career. That is seventh-most all time and the most among active players.
In his 14th season, James led the NBA in the regular season with 37.8 minutes per game — the most he has played since 2012-13 with the Miami Heat. James is the most experienced player to lead the NBA in minutes per game for a season. No other player has led the league in minutes per game beyond his 12th season. (Allen Iverson was in his 12th season when he averaged an NBA-high 41.8 minutes per game in 2007-08.)
The heavy use has continued in the postseason. James is averaging 42.4 minutes per game through eight playoff games. Barring injury, he will play a minimum of 12 games in these playoffs. At James’ current pace, only Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson will have played more minutes per game in the playoffs in their 14th season or later (minimum 10 games).
The minutes James has been playing during the postseason have been moderated by the rest he and the other Cavaliers players have had. They have played eight games in this postseason, and by the time the Eastern Conference finals start, they will have had 24 days with no game scheduled since the playoffs started.