There’s a chance we’ve never before seen anything like this. There is a chance it’s never happened. If it has happened, well then rarefied air is the subject and those operative words also represent this context.

As one ages, the full panoply of skills narrows and inevitably erodes. Vision. Hearing. Balance. Cognition. But thankfully judgment, some perception, experience and wisdom can be gathered, heightened, enhanced and grow along the way. That is, if you’re lucky.

But sharpness? Laser focus? Exuberance and competitiveness? The killer instinct? Probably not. And if so, not often. Closer to never than to likely.

Mellowing doesn’t have to be horrible; it can be a good thing.

Physically on average a male reaches his prime between the late-20s and early-30s. Same with women. Muscle strength is at its peak and if injuries or illness are not in play, this strength value can be maintained for another twenty years. By middle age, muscular performance gradually declines at a rate of roughly 5% every ten years according to research appearing in the American College of Sports Medicine.

Men and women generally experience a 30–40% loss of their functional strength but various training regimens are able to counteract some of this to a degree. Lifestyle choices dictate a lot and muscle mass can be re-built naturally though certainly more dramatically with the TRT, HGH and ad nauseum sometimes life-threatening shortcuts of performance enhancing drug use.

A slower metabolism and loss of flexibility are on life’s docket. The metabolic slowdown is attributed to the increase in fat coupled with the loss of muscle mass over time. As for flexibility, the Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science posits that the standard “sit and reach test” shows a measurable loss of about three to four inches [of flexibility] in the hips, lower back and hamstrings over the course of one’s working career.

Collagen, the most abundant protein in our bodies, consists of fibrils which with time begin to develop cross-linkages contributing to reduced elasticity of ligaments, joint capsules and tendons. Gently exercising daily the major joints through complete range of motion movement can counteract this age-related loss of flexibility to the point that some of it can at least temporarily be restored.

Bottom line: neither Mother Nature nor Father Time suffer fools gladly. And they cannot be fooled.

Ah, but there are exceptions. Always exceptions which make life interesting.

There are countless examples of and references to those who seem to have tricked the system. Nabi Tajima, the Japanese supercentenarian, is the world’s oldest verified living person; she’ll be 118 in August. Richard Overton, an American WWII Army sergeant is the oldest living U.S. veteran; he’s only 111. Shivakumara Swamiji, the Indian humanitarian, will soon be 111. Marko Feingold, an American Holocaust survivor, lecturer and community leader is 104. Kirk Douglas is 101.

Do Muoi, Vietnamese Prime Minister. John Franzese, Italian-born American mobster. Juan Vicente Torrealba, Venezuelan harpist and composer. Morton Sobell, American espionage figure and co-defendant in the 1951 Julius and Ethel Rosenberg spy trial. All of these people (and 13 others) will turn 101 in 2018.

T. Berry Brazelton, the American pediatrician; Paul D. Boyer, an American Nobel Prize-winning biochemist; Henri Vernes, a Belgian action and science-fiction writer; Katherine Johnson, the American physicist and mathematician portrayed in the film Hidden Figures; and Billy Graham will all be 100 this year. How about Betty White? She celebrated her 96th. birthday on January 17th.

These people are extraordinary in both their genealogies and their God-blessed good fortune. How active they are today may vary and is really beside the point. They have achieved and embraced longevity and distinction in their own unique fashions and somehow they keep on going.

In the contemporary world of sports, LeBron James and Tom Brady — henceforth to be known simply as LeBron and Brady, more than earning their one-name sobriquets signifying fame long ago — have done the same.

LeBron is 33 years old and was a child basketball prodigy who first dunked as a middle-schooler in Akron, Ohio and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 17-year-old high school junior in 2002. More than ten years later in December of 2012 he graced the cover again as SI’s Sportsman of the Year. This accolade was bestowed upon him in 2016 as well. (As of August 8, 2016, LeBron had 26 SI covers to his credit, ranking third all-time behind Michael Jordan [50] and Muhammad Ali [40]. Tiger Woods was fourth [24]).

He was the first overall selection in the 2003 NBA Draft, deciding to jump directly from St.Vincent-St. Mary HS to the show; no college for LeBron. He is 6’8” weighs about 260 lbs. and is chiseled from granite. His career highlights and awards number in the countless and continue to grow.

When all is said and done — perhaps it would be most prudent to use his full name for this one — LeBron Raymone (“LBJ,” “King James,” “The Chosen One,” “The Akron Hammer,” “The L-Train”) James may well be considered the best basketball player who ever laced ’em up.

As in who ever lived.

Brady is 40. Just the other day Skip Bayless of FS1’s Undisputed compared Brady to Jordan and not just because with his sixth Super Bowl win tantalizingly close, he would equal Jordan in number of championships dotting his glittering resume. Bayless’ rationale is that the two share an uncanny knack of pulling motivation from the littlest things (almost suggesting a paranoid bent) to turn the tables on naysayers and gain the advantage.

A perceived slight of any sort is the match to the gasoline. Jordan didn’t like it when any aspect of his GOAT status was even remotely questioned. Brady may not either but with him it’s a little different. He goes wild inside — and occasionally for the world to see — when he thinks his team is being dissed.

As Bayless explained, Jalen Ramsey’s guarantee that the Jags would beat the Pats and then win the Super Bowl probably is all Brady needs…if there’s anything he needs. Stoking the unrivaled competitive fires to further feed the desire and ability to rip an opponent’s heart out on the biggest stages is unwise with respect to dealing with Brady (or “His Airness” for that matter).

Brady’s public response to Ramsey’s blather? “I think what I’ve learned for a long time is it’s how you play, it’s not what you say…The game is going to be decided by who plays the best, not who hypes the best or speaks the best. He’s a really good player. I’ve watched a ton of film on him. He has a lot of strengths…I am more concerned about how he plays opposed to what he says. We’re going to have to play really well to score points.”

The points have already been scored.

A rather compelling argument could be made that LeBron — he of the 3 NBA rings; 4 MVP Awards; 3 NBA Finals MVP Awards; 2 NBA All-Star Game MVP Awards; 1 NBA scoring title; an NBA Rookie of the Year Award; 13-time NBA All-Star; 13-time All-NBA selection; 6-time All-Defensive selection; and the NBA career playoff scoring leader — is having his best season this season.

Through 43 games he is playing about 37 minutes a night and averaging 27.3/ppg; 8.0 rpg; and 8.8 apg. Although he’s on the floor about two fewer minutes per game than his career average (38.8 min.) his scoring, rebounding and assist numbers exceed his career averages of 27.1; 7.3; and 7.1 respectively.

All this in his fifteenth year. Remarkable really.

Likewise for Brady now in his eighteenth season. His QBR of 102.8 appreciably exceeds his career rating of 97.6. He threw for 4,577 regular season yards in 2017, his fifth-most in a world-class (GOAT) career during which his passing yardage total sits at 66,159 — fourth on the all-time list. His 488 touchdown passes ranks third. The victory he engineered over the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night January 13th. (35–14; 35–53; 337 yds.; 3 TD; 0 Int.; 102.5 QBR) made him the oldest quarterback ever with a playoff win. He has started and won more playoff games than any quarterback in NFL history. He is poised to win his sixth Super Bowl championship, Jacksonville and the Eagles/Vikings survivor cooperating and acceding to Patriot wishes.

“Wisdom doesn’t automatically come with old age. Nothing does — except wrinkles. It’s true, some wines improve with age. But only if the grapes were good in the first place.”

— Abigail Van Buren born Pauline Esther “Popo” Friedman, widely known as Abby of ‘Dear Abby’ —

The greatness of LeBron James and Tom Brady transcends time. The grapes were good. Very, very good.

There has been nothing, nor possibly will there be anything quite like it.


[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in January 2018.]

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