Becoming an Ironman


Jalen Flowers, Staff writer

In 2003, LeBron James made his NBA debut at 18-years-old against the Sacramento Kings. Kings center Jabari Smith was one of the opponents that saw the start of James’ lengthy and fruitful career. 

Twenty years later, James is now a Los Angeles Laker and has outlived the majority of NBA careers. This January, the Lakers had a routine Monday night game against the Houston Rockets, where James was matched up against power forward Jabari Smith Jr.

This type of longevity, to play against a father and his son in one career, is now required to build a legacy in professional sports. Athletes who are able to sustain their success over a long period of time are more likely to be remembered as all-time greats in their sport, so the standard for pro athletes is to make James-like investments into their bodies. 

Durability is now a necessity. According to SLAM Magazine, James spends over $1.5 million a year on his body and mind. His investments include cryotherapy, hyperbaric chambers, recovery leg boots and personal chefs along with private training. While the 19-time NBA All-Star’s military-like artillery might seem inordinate, it’s becoming mandatory. 

Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson spends a similar amount by financing his own performance team and prior to his retirement, NFL legend Tom Brady made hefty investments in his health every offseason. 

Athletic immortality is becoming a phenomenon, with athletes following in athletes like James and Brady’s footsteps. Their 20-year careers were built on rigorous training regimens. Brady even trademarked his “TB12” exercises that kept him fit for two decades.

Professional sports require a high level of physical fitness and athleticism, which can take a toll on the body over time. This can lead to injuries and wear and tear on joints and muscles, making it difficult to sustain a high level of performance over a long period of time. 

The mental aspect of a professional athletic career is becoming emphasized by athletes as well, with private therapy and stress management being included in the million-dollar backing of their bodies. Miami Heat forward Kevin Love spends the majority of his offseason mentally preparing himself for the next year and established a partnership with wellness app Headspace to advocate for mental stability in his sport. 

These players that defy the average career lengths in their respective sports all have the body investments in common, almost making them immune to factors that make a professional career short. 

For athletes like James, their longevity and ability to withstand trial after trial in their career is a key part of their legacy. Players with shorter primes like former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick’s electric five-year run or NBA player Jeremy Lin’s spontaneously exciting two-week run are treated like urban myths, while a 20-year career can define a legend.