Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra Reveals the Secret to LeBron James’ Mid-30s Success

The NBA recently published its 2019-20 roster survey, which consolidates all the demographic data from the league’s 30 teams’ opening night rosters. The average player is just 26.6 years old, nearly a decade younger than the now 35-year old LeBron James. Generally, NBA players hit their prime around 27 years old, but LeBron is turning back the hands of time. His continuing success surprises fans and critics. One man who is not surprised, however, is former coach Erik Spoelstra.

Erik Spoelstra and the Big-Three Heat era

LeBron James made headlines in 2010 with The Decision, a controversial move that hasn’t aged well. Even though LeBron donated more than $3 million from The Decision to charity, a cloud followed him as he took his talents to South Beach. He quickly shook the critics off as he worked with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh under head coach Erik Spoelstra. 

Spoelstra coached the Big Three to a pair of championships in 2012 and 2013, along with finals appearances in 2011 and 2014. The four-year run wasn’t long enough to call a dynasty, but it still outperformed even the most optimistic expectations. LeBron moved back to Ohio and led the Cavaliers to the title that Cleveland desperately needed, but his run in Miami ensured that history would always mention his name alongside Spoelstra’s.

LeBron James’ key to success, according to Spoelstra

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra reveals why LeBron James keeps playing at a high level in his mid-30s -- and it's not just luck or good genes.
LeBron James (left) and Erik Spoelstra in 2013. | Robert Duyos/Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

When asked about LeBron’s success as he hits his mid-30s, Spoelstra downplayed the role of luck. He told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that James is probably sipping from the fabled fountain of youth. Then Spoelstra turned serious and revealed why James is still so good at his age:

“This doesn’t happen by accident. During the summer, he rarely takes a bunch of time off. So it’s not like he’s working to get himself fully back into shape after enjoying three or four months of doing nothing.” 

While many players will use the offseason to go on long vacations or splurge on unhealthy food, LeBron is always ready to get back to the court. In addition to a personal trainer he’s stuck with for 16 years, LeBron has smartly invested in keeping his body in game shape.

LeBron James’ work ethic doesn’t allow him to take much time off between seasons, and it certainly doesn’t allow him to take time off during them. The idea of load management has crept more and more into the modern NBA, but LeBron is fighting to reject it. He recently explained that he planned to play every game where he was healthy, wanting to make sure that fans who showed up to see him weren’t disappointed. Lakers coach Frank Vogel wisely agreed with the star, clarifying that he didn’t want to overplay him, but something like 34 minutes a night would be ideal.

Is 2019-20 LeBron James’ best season ever?

Among seasons at age 35 or older, LeBron is having by far the best season in history. Additionally, there’s an argument that this is his best season ever — at any age. Even more so when you consider the average age for most teams this season is just over 26 years old. While the Lakers are a different team than James’ championship runs with the Heat and the Cavaliers, his stats stack up to his best seasons for those competitors. The Lakers won 24 of their first 30 games, and even a 3-game skid left them leading the West by 2.5 games. After making offseason moves and assembling a team in win-now mode, it was critical for the Lakers to shine in October and November.

LeBron’s strategy of working hard and staying in shape isn’t exactly earth-shattering in its originality, but it’s impressive to see how effective it has been. Not only is LeBron having the best season ever at his age, but he’s also having one of his best seasons ever — and most importantly, he’s leading his team to the playoffs. If the Lakers hang their 17th NBA championship banner in Staples Center at the end of this season, LeBron James’ dedication and work ethic will be the key.