At age 30, LeBron James (right) has become basketball royalty.LeBron James, who turns 30 years old Tuesday, is often mentioned among the NBA’s all-time greats. Statistically, how does James stack up to the all-time greats at age 30? Stats & Info dives into the numbers to answer that question.
James has totaled 23,901 career points, the most by an NBA player before his 30th birthday. For the sake of providing accurate context, it is important to note that James entered the NBA out of high school and has played more seasons/games before turning 30 than all of the players he is being compared to in this post other than Kobe Bryant.
Most Career Points Before 30th Birthday
However, his excellence since entering the NBA at age 18 is precisely what has set James apart from most of the transcendent players he is often compared to. James has over 5,000 more points than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, had before turning 30.
LeBron vs. his Mount Rushmore
Earlier this year, James named the four players on his personal NBA Mount Rushmore: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson. According to advanced metrics, only Jordan (the NBA's all-time PER leader) had a higher Player Efficiency Rating than James through his age-30 season.
LeBron's Mount Rushmore
Through Age-30 Season
James has already posted more win shares (a stat tracked on Basketball-Reference.com) than all four legends on his Mount Rushmore before turning 30. In fact, despite having completed less than half of this season, James already has the most win shares of any player in NBA history through his age-30 season.
LeBron’s four MVP awards are more than any of his Mount Rushmore players had through their age-30 seasons. But his two championships are fewer than all had through 30 years old except Robertson, who had one title throughout his career. James and Robertson are the only players in NBA history to average 25 points, six rebounds and six assists per game through their age-30 seasons.
Because win shares is a counting stat and James has been active since age 18, win shares per 48 minutes is another advanced way to compare players across generations without the length of James’ career becoming the main factor. Of the players named on his Mount Rushmore, James is averaging more win shares per 48 minutes (.241) than all of them through his age-30 season except Jordan (.274).
LeBron vs. Jordan
As it relates specifically to Michael Jordan, James is actually more accomplished at age 30 than Jordan was -- more MVPs, more Finals appearances and the same number of NBA titles. Of course, James did enter the NBA three years earlier than Jordan. Both players have been highly efficient when it matters most: in the playoffs. Jordan (28.6) and James (27.7) have the two best Player Efficiency Ratings in NBA postseason history (minimum 50 games).
Careers on 30th Birthday
Box plus/minus or BPM (found on Basketball-Reference here) is an advanced stat intended to measure a player's total contribution, calculated using box-score data that's available going back to the 1973-74 season. It’s an estimate of the points per 100 possessions a player contributes above a league-average player, translated to an average team. In essence, it estimates how good a player is compared to his era if he were on an average team with an average pace.
James (8.7) has a better BPM in his career than Jordan (7.4). In fact, James’ BPM is the highest over the past 40 seasons. Based on this, you could argue that his value during his era is greater than any other player’s value in his era over the past 40 seasons. But if you look at through-age-30 seasons for BPM, Jordan has the edge at 9.2 compared to 8.7.
Other LeBron-at-30 tidbits
• James, Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell are the only players with 4 MVP awards before turning 30.
• James has the same birthday (Dec. 30) as two of the best athletes of all time in their respective sports -- Tiger Woods and Sandy Koufax.
• With James leading all players in scoring before turning 30 years old, we reached out to the Elias Sports Bureau to give us an idea of some other notable record holders at age 30. The NFL’s passing touchdowns leader at 30 is Dan Marino, the NHL goals leader at 30 is Wayne Gretzky and the MLB hits leader at age 30 is Ty Cobb.