LOS ANGELES – LeBron James says two doctors recommended season-ending surgery on a torn tendon in his right foot, but he has decided to finish out the season on the court with the Los Angeles Lakers.
James returned to the Lakers on Sunday after a monthlong absence with what he revealed was a significant tendon injury. He wasn't in the starting lineup for only the second time in his 20-year NBA career, but he still led the Lakers with 19 points in their 118-108 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
The NBA's career scoring leader hadn't played since Feb. 26, when he complained of right foot soreness after a win at Dallas. James considered surgery after getting the sobering diagnosis, but his teammates' outstanding play down the stretch and his own inner determination contributed to his decision to keep playing.
James also said his doctors told him that he was “healing faster than anybody they’ve seen before with the injury.”
One more factor contributed to his decision: James got a third opinion from an unnamed foot specialist.
“I went to the LeBron James of feet, and he told me I should (delay possible surgery),” James said, declining to name the doctor.
James returned with eight games left in the Lakers’ regular season as they attempt to avoid missing the playoffs for the second consecutive year and the third time in James’ five seasons in Los Angeles.
James said he was inspired by his teammates while he put in 12-hour workdays between rehab and training to get back in action. Los Angeles went 8-5 while James was out despite adding five new rotation players around the trade deadline, finally developing some chemistry during their push.
“They go 8-5 and obviously had a chance to — the hell with the play-in, we actually can be a top-eight seed,” James said. “It definitely changed my mindset on me coming back and trying to be a part of this. Well, I don’t even want to say (it) changed my mindset. It just enhanced what I was trying to do as far as my workouts, as far as my treatment and everything. They played such great basketball. I was just ecstatic, from me being in a boot to me getting out of the boot, you guys saw me on the sideline, just so happy about what the guys are doing.”
The Lakers had one of their roughest performances in a month against the Bulls, falling behind by a huge early margin and never closing the gap.
James had played in a game as a reserve just once previously in his 20-year NBA career, doing it with Cleveland on Dec. 11, 2007.
The 38-year-old James is averaging 29.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists in his fifth season with the Lakers. He surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA's top scorer on Feb. 7 but had played in just three games since that historic night.
James said he doesn’t know whether he’ll need surgery after the season, but he expects to have an MRI exam after he’s done playing for the summer. He said he would be at full strength for training camp in the fall even if he has the surgery.
The Lakers provided few updates on James' condition during his absence, and James kept the details of his recovery firmly under wraps on social media. He also missed five games earlier this season with a strained left adductor, and he has had lengthy injury absences in every full season during his time with the Lakers.
But James is looking healthy at a key point for the Lakers, who could finally have their full roster available for the final games of the stretch run.
While James returned, D'Angelo Russell missed his second straight game because of a right hip injury. Russell and James have played in only two games together since the Lakers acquired Russell in a trade last month because of injuries for both players.