Serena Williams’ 2022 Wimbledon lasted longer than her last appearance at the All-England Club. In 2021, she left in tears after slipping on the court and suffering a hamstring injury.. Not having played in a year, her rustiness was evident in her error-prone play and she was promptly escorted off 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7) by 115th-ranked Harmony Tan of France.
It was a familiar sight. Last month, Tiger Woods withdrew from the final round of the PGA Championship. His surgically reconstructed right leg couldn’t last 72 holes.
In the sage words of the late Andy Rooney, “Life is like a roll of toilet paper, it gets faster near the end.”
For these GOATs of their respective sports, Rooney’s ancient proverb applies to their careers. LeBron’s production hasn’t dropped off significantly yet, his margin of error has shrunk to mortal levels as his availability has dwindled. Prime LeBron wouldn’t miss the postseason. If he was able to carry Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas and a can of tuna to the Finals, he could lift an ill-fitting group of wily vets to the 8th seed.
LeBron James’ seasons are getting progressively shorter. He played 55 games in 2019, failing to reach the postseason for the first time since 2005, missed 45 out of 72 games in 2021, then was unceremoniously bounced in the first round, then 56 this past season.
LeBron has already hinted at his interest in owning an expansion team in Las Vegas. If the 2025 expansion scuttlebutt timeline is accurate, he won’t be waiting for Bronny James to excavate his way into the league past his age-40 season in 2024-25. The NBA’s rules on player-owners is tougher than the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause and no active player can hold a direct or indirect ownership stake in any NBA team.
Men’s tennis’ all-time Grand Slam leader Rafael Nadal is at the stage of his career where he can still win at Roland Garros but he has to rest between Grand Slams and inject numbing agents into his foot to remain bipedal. Roger Federer, 40, is essentially a top-100 player in emeritus status only. Novak Djokovic is no spring chicken either.
Tom Brady seemingly defied the odds, but returning to play at 45 is practically begging for a humbling. He could have made a clean break. Losing to the eventual champs after making that inspiring comeback was nothing to sneeze at. Instead of ending on a high note, he couldn’t resist the call to fly closer to the sun and risk crashing into Icarus’ tomb.
Maybe he’s talking to the same herbalists who developed Aaron Rodgers’ “vaccine substitute,” Brady might think he’s immune to time, but eventually he’ll also be the NFL’s Michael Jordan equivalent lumbering up and down the court in Wizards blue and gold.
Aaron Rodgers may not be far behind him to pursue his post-career survivalist dream of living off the grid without those pesky vaccine tracking chips in his arm.
Watching these former GOATs fall short of the quarterfinals or postseasons that used to be is akin to watching a septuagenarian getting into more car accidents until it’s time to take away the keys.
Williams’ early bounce from Wimbledon probably shouldn’t be surprising. She’s entered the steep descent phase of her career. Aging gracefully is a luxury and a testament to even remaining competitive long enough to earn that right.
Williams and Woods are going to be a tough act to follow. The WTA is struggling to fill the vacuum. The PGA Tour Woods made his billion on is about to lose its monopoly on golf. And then what? We’re stuck with Rory McIlroy and Scott Scheffler duking it out at the Dogecoin Invitational? The NBA and NFL should be fine eventually. Patrick Mahomes appears poised to make his own stamp on the league, but the conditions aren’t as ideal for him as they were for Brady, who spent 20 years captaining Bill Belichick’s ship. The Association might endure a few post-LeBron/post-Warrior dynasty years while the working class-superstars scrap and claw for supremacy. A new GOAT candidate will emerge from the post-LeBron primaries.
After nearly two decades of watching these GOATS show up and show out like clockwork, there are uncertain days ahead.