When he was a high school junior, LeBron James broke his wrist, causing him to miss two weeks of hoops. And that was about it for the next 18 years.
James never had an injury linger longer than that, until a strained left groin sidelined him for the past five weeks.
“I had never been injured before like that,” James said.
And while LeBron was able to use the Lakers’ bench as his personal runway, he would’ve rather been laced up than suited up.
“I love clothes, I love suits — but I didn’t come here to put on a suit every day,” James said. “I came here to put on a jersey and some shorts and lead a team the best way I know how.
“That’s the frustration part: when you see your team struggle and you know you can help them and you can’t do anything in a suit and tie. That’s when the negativity starts to creep in your mind.”
And there was certainly some struggling when James was on the mend.
The Lakers — who have gone 21-14 when LeBron plays — went just 6-11 in his absence. Their defense stayed strong, but the offense malfunctioned without the game’s greatest playmaker.
So it was no surprise that the Lakers leaned heavily on James when he made his long-awaited return against the Clippers on Thursday.
He wasn’t at full strength, saying he felt like he was 80 percent there, but he was LeBron.
Even without that extra 20 percent, he nearly notched a triple-double with 24 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists.
And while his conditioning has taken a hit from more than a month out, he nonetheless played 40 minutes to lead the Lakers to a critical victory, including creating all of his team’s points in OT.
Two buckets came from James attacking the paint himself, but the other three scores came from him passing out of double teams or finding a teammate in transition.
“I’ve said since I’ve been here and been coaching him that he’s one of the most unselfish players I’ve ever been around,” coach Luke Walton said, “let alone a superstar that’s that unselfish.”
LeBron wasn’t perfect. He admitted that the timing on his shots was off, evidenced by his 9-of-22 clip. And he was jonesing for some sleep after his high workload in his first game back.
Yet James — who admitted that maintaining his patience was the most difficult part of being injured — relished his return to the floor and the full spectrum of emotions that came with it, feeling everything from excited and ecstatic to scared and timid.
“I wasn’t positive every day throughout this whole process,” James said. “I probably had more negative moments personally than positive. But when you have a great support staff it helps out a lot.”