LeBron James was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, which means he has now been in the league for 20 years – to be exact, his 20th anniversary lands on June 26th (the date of the 2003 draft). Still, playing in the NBA for two decades is an achievement not many players can say they achieved.
In fact, the average NBA career only lasts 4-5 years before they start fading out of the league and, while superstars usually prolong that career, LeBron is just the 10th player in NBA history to play in 20 seasons – only 5 of those players have had a longer career, with Vince Carter having the longest at 22 years.
The point is that most players can’t keep their body in game-day shape for two decades, but LeBron has somehow found the secret – I guess investing millions of dollars into your body does wonders. And by the time he’s done with his career, he’ll either tie or pass Carter for the all-time record for longest career.
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LeBron James Defies Father Time – Literally and Figuratively
LeBron James continues to defy father time – he was one of the best players in the league in 2003 and is STILL one of the best players in 2023. To put the length of his career in perspective, the No. 1 song in the US at the time of the 2003 NBA Draft was ‘This Is The Night’ by Clay Aiken – it was his debut single.
Cristiano Ronaldo was making his debut for Manchester United, the Department of Homeland Security had just begun operations, George W. Bush was President of the US, Saddam Hussein had just been captured, and the world population was just 6.38 billion – it’s around 7.94 billion today. Isn’t that crazy?
Here’s another incredible fact that shows just how long LeBron James has been in the league – he has played against nine different sets of father-son duos since that coveted draft day in 2003. That means he not only played against the father, but he outlasted them and ended up playing against their son, as well.
Let’s take a look at who those father-son duos are:
9. Kenyon Martin & KJ Martin
Kenyon Martin was drafted by the New Jersey Nets with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft. He spent 15 years in the league between 2000 and 2015 – 12 of those seasons were spent playing against LeBron James. In addition to the Nets, Martin played for the Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks, and Bucks.
In 757 games played, Martin averaged 12.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.1 blocks in 30.6 minutes per game. He was named to the All-Rookie team in 2000-01 and was an All-Star during the 2003-04 season – he had 16.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game.
His son, Kenyon Martin Jr. (goes by KJ), was born in 2001 and drafted by the Sacramento Kings in the second round (No. 52 overall) of the 2020 NBA Draft. One week later, he was traded to the Houston Rockets, where he has spent the first three years of his career. He’s finally starting to come into his own.
In 178 games played, KJ is averaging 9.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.5 steals, and 0.6 blocks in 23.1 minutes per game. He’s currently having a career year with 11.5 ponts, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game – all of which are career-highs. He also has a career-high 21 starts this season.
8. Gary Trent Sr. & Gary Trent Jr.
Gary Trent was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the No. 11 overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft. He spent nine seasons in the league between 1995 and 2004 – his final season was LeBron James’ rookie season. He never played for the Bucks, but he did play for Dallas, Portland, Minnesota, and Toronto.
In 506 games played, Trent averaged 8.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.4 steals, and 0.3 blocks in 19.5 minutes per game. The closest he ever got to a championship was in his final season, when his Timberwolves were defeated by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2003-04 Western Conference Finals.
His son, Gary Trent Jr., was born in 1999 and drafted by the Sacramento Kings in the second round (No. 37 overall) of the 2018 NBA Draft. He’s currently in his fifth season in the NBA and, while he never actually played for the Kings, he spent 2.5 seasons with the Trail Blazers and 2.5 seasons with Toronto.
In 252 games played, Trent Jr. is averaging 14.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.2 blocks in 29.0 minutes per game. He has been a regular starter since joining the Raptors and is averaging a career-high 18.7 points per game this season – his second consecutive season of at least 18 points.
7. Gary Payton Sr. & Gary Payton II
Gary Payton was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1990 NBA Draft. He spent 17 seasons in the league between 1990 and 2007 – four of those seasons were while LeBron James was in the league. He also played for the Heat, Lakers, Celtics, and Bucks during his career.
In 1,335 games played, Payton averaged 16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and 1.8 steals in 35.3 minutes per game. He was a 9-time All-Star, 9-time All-Defensive guard, Defensive Player of the Year, 2006 champion, and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
His son, Gary Payton II, went undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft and bounced around the league until finally earning some regular playing time with the Golden State Warriors during the 2020-21 season. The following year, he was a role player during the Warriors’ title run – he averaged 16.9 minutes per game.
In 156 games played over the past seven seasons, Payton II is averaging just 5.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.3 blocks in 14.7 minutes per game. He currently plays for the Portland Trail Blazers, but has only played in 14 games with 0 starts and is averaging under 17 minutes per game.
6. Rick Brunson & Jalen Brunson
Rick Brunson went undrafted in the 1995 NBA Draft and spent several years overseas before making his NBA debut on December 2, 1997 with the Portland Trail Blazers. He spent 9 seasons in the league with 8 teams between 1997 and 2006 – three of those seasons were spent playing against LeBron James.
In just 337 games played, Brunson averaged 3.2 points, 1.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 0.6 steals in 13.5 minutes per game. He made four playoff appearances, three with the Knicks and Trail Blazers, but played less than 2 minutes per game in 16 playoff games. He’s now an assistant coach for the New York Knicks.
His son, Jalen Brunson, was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round (No. 33 overall) of the 2018 NBA Draft. He’s currently playing in his fifth season in the league and first season with the New York Knicks – yes, his father is an assistant coach of his. He spent the first four years with the Mavericks.
In 329 games played, Brunson is averaging 13.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 0.6 steals in 26.3 minutes per game. He’s having a career year with the Knicks as their starting point guard, putting up 23.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.0 steals in 34.9 minutes per game – but still wasn’t an All-Star.
5. Glenn Robinson Jr. & Glenn Robinson III
Glenn Robinson was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1994 NBA Draft. He spent 11 seasons in the NBA between 1994 and 2005 – his final two seasons were spent playing against LeBron James. After eight years with the Bucks, he also played for the Hawks, Spurs, and 76ers.
In 688 career games played, Robinson averaged 20.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.6 blocks in 36.8 minutes per game. He was named to the 1994-95 All-Rookie team and was selected to back-to-back All-Star games in 1999-00 and 2000-01. He won a championship with the Spurs in 2005.
His son, Glenn Robinson III, was born in 1994 and drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the second round (No. 40 overall) of the 2014 NBA Draft. He spent the next seven seasons with six different teams and hasn’t played in an NBA game since last season. He hasn’t retired, but he isn’t on a roster, either.
In 304 career games played, Robinson III averaged just 5.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, and 0.2 blocks in 17.4 minutes per game. He made four postseason appearances – three with the Indiana Pacers and one with the Detroit Pistons – but only averaged 6.9 minutes per game in 12 playoff games.
4. Adrian Griffin Sr. & Adrian Griffin Jr.
Adrian Griffin went undrafted in the 1996 NBA Draft and spent the next few years playing in various leagues across the US and overseas. He finally made his NBA debut on November 2, 1999 with the Boston Celtics and played for five teams total over his nine-year career between 1999 and 2008.
In 477 career games played, Griffin averaged just 4.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 0.9 steals in 16.8 minutes per game. He made five postseason appearances and almost won the 2006 title with Dallas, but lost to the Miami Heat. He has been an NBA assistant coach since 2008, currently with the Raptors.
His son, Adrian Griffin Jr. (goes by AJ), was born in 2003 and drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. At just 19 years old, he’s currently playing in his first season and is establishing himself as an effective player off the bench – he has 11 starts through 51 games thus far.
In those 51 games, AJ Griffin is averaging a smooth 9.6 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 0.7 steals in 20.7 minutes per game – he’s shooting 41% from beyond the arc. He has a long career ahead of him if he can continue to improve, but has already shown glimpses of ability – he has scored 24 points twice.
3. Glen Rice Sr. & Glen Rice Jr.
Glen Rice was drafted by the Miami Heat with the No. 4 overall pick in the 1989 NBA Draft. He spent 15 years in the league between 1989 and 2004 – his final season was LeBron James’ rookie season, but Rice only played in 18 games that season. He played for six teams throughout his illustrious career.
In 1,000 career games played, Rice averaged 18.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.3 blocks in 35.0 minutes per game. He was a three-time All-Star, the 1996-97 All-Star MVP, and was the 2000 NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers. He averaged at least 20.0 points per game six times.
His son, Glen Rice Jr., was born in 1991 and drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round (No. 35 overall) of the 2013 NBA Draft. He only spent two seasons in the league before starting a career overseas – he has played in the Philippines, Israel, Puerto Rico, New Zealand, Argentina, and more.
In just 16 games in the NBA, Rice Jr. averaged 2.7 points, 1.5 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.4 steals, and 0.1 blocks in 9.5 minutes per game. After spending the 2021-22 season in Israel, Rice Jr. returned to the United States and started playing in the BIG3 – a 3-on-3 format that was founded by Ice Cube in 2017.
2. Jabari Smith Sr. & Jabari Smith Jr.
Jabari Smith was drafted by the Sacramento Kings in the second round (No. 45 overall) of the 2000 NBA Draft. He spent four seasons in the league between 2000 and 2005 – his final two seasons in the NBA were spent playing against LeBron James. He also played for the Nets and 76ers during his career.
In just 108 career games played, Smith averaged 3.0 points, 1.6 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.3 steals, and 0.2 blocks in 9.8 minutes per game – he only had 2 starts in his career. He made two playoff appearances, but barely played. After his NBA career, he spent the next five years playing in various leagues overseas.
His son, Jabari Smith Jr., was born in 2003 and was drafted by the Houston Rockets with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. At just 19 years old, he’s currently playing in his rookie season and is already establishing himself as a cornerstone player for his team – though he has a lot of improving to do.
In 51 games this season, Smith Jr. has 51 starts and is averaging 11.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.5 steals, and 0.9 blocks in 29.7 minutes per game. He has all the skill and definitely has the size to succeed. From here on out, he just has to fine-tune his game and gain a little confidence on the floor.
1. Samaki Walker & Jabari Walker
Samaki Walker was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks with the No. 9 overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft. He spent 10 years in the league between 1996 and 2006 – he got to play against LeBron James in his final three seasons before retiring. He also played for the Heat, Lakers, Spurs, Wizards, and Pacers.
In 445 career games played, Walker averaged 5.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.3 steals, and 0.7 blocks in 17.1 minutes per game. He spent most of his career coming off the bench and won the 2002 NBA championship with the Lakers in 2002. He had a career-high of 26 points on January 13, 1998.
His son, Jabari Walker, was born in 2002 and drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round (No. 57 overall) of the 2022 draft. At just 20 years old, he’s currently playing in his rookie year and made his NBA debut on October 24, 2022. He has come off the bench in all 34 games he has played thus far.
In those 34 games, Walker is averaging 2.2 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.1 steals, and 0.1 blocks in 8.4 minutes per game. He had a career-high 11 points on January 6th against the Indiana Pacers. His team has played LeBron three times this season, but Walker only appeared in one of those games.
And Soon, LeBron James Will Play With/Against His Own Son(s)
It’s pretty incredible to look at all the father-son duos LeBron James has faced off against in his long and illustrious career, but none of it compares to what might happen in a few years. In an interview with ESPN a few months ago, James detailed his plans to one day play with (or against) his son, Bronny James.
“I need to be on the floor with my boy, I got to be on the floor with Bronny,” said James back in January. “”Either in the same uniform or a matchup against him. … But I would love to do the whole Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. thing. That would be ideal for sure,” he continued. “I’m here already, so, I’m just waiting on him.”
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As of right now, Bronny James is in his senior year of high school and will be making the transition to college basketball next season. He has to spend at least one year in college before entering the draft, so it’s clear we still have several years of LeBron James left – which is good because he’s still dominant.
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