TIM REYNOLDS, AP Basketball Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Older, wiser and more aware of the world, LeBron James is unafraid to let his views known on politics or social issues or even the business of basketball.
It wasn’t always that way.
But in his 14th season, with more NBA playing years in his rear-view mirror than left in front of him, James doesn’t see much reason to stay silent these days. His voice is louder than ever when he deems it appropriate while his numbers remain as good as ever. It’s one of the reasons why he’ll again be the star attraction on Sunday night when he plays in the All-Star Game for the 13th time.
“I’ve been vocal about a lot,” James said Saturday. “That’s who I am. I’m a vocal guy. I’ve been vocal about a lot of things this year.”
Whether it was his stance on the presidential election where he supported Hillary Clinton, expressing his displeasure about Phil Jackson’s characterization of the people closest to him , speaking directly to fans through video messages or even saying his Cleveland Cavaliers need another playmaker to help with their NBA title defense, James has been taking full advantage of his massive platform .
This weekend, though, he is trying to take a break from any negativity and enjoy the moment.
“Truly blessed,” James said. “This is a special time for me.”
He’s not alone in that sort of thinking. For all the subplots — the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook drama, Kyrie Irving’s claim that the Earth is flat and Carmelo Anthony’s All-Star nod after some trying times in New York — none of the 24 players who’ll be on the floor Sunday night will likely be thinking about anything besides putting on a show.
James’ two sons are hoping for a show, too. Not from their dad, so much — but rather from their favorites like Westbrook and Stephen Curry.
“LeBron Jr. wore 0 for the longest time because he loves Russ,” James said. “Bryce wore 30 because he likes Steph and likes to shoot the ball from deep. I think that’s pretty cool.”
James’ arrival was the big news of All-Star Saturday, largely because he missed Friday’s events because of family obligations. Durant and Westbrook shared the floor for practice but had minimal interaction — not even looking at each other when they were maybe a foot apart in the back of the Superdome while trying to find their assigned spots for a media session.’
“This game, it’s for the fans,” said Westbrook, the two-time reigning All-Star MVP.
It always is, though this All-Star weekend has a younger feel.
Sunday’s will be the first All-Star Game since 2005 — James’ first All-Star — where no player in the game will be older than 32. Kobe Bryant was 37 when he made his All-Star farewell in Toronto last season, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was two months shy of turning 42 when he played in the game for the last time in 1989.
Anthony is the oldest All-Star, seven months older than James and eight months older than Marc Gasol. They’re all 32.
“It’s pretty weird to be the veterans now when we were the young guys a few years ago, but that’s just the way the league is going, man,” Durant said. “Teams are drafting two or three 18-year-olds a year. … The league is getting younger and at some point we’re going to be the old guys passing the torch to the young guys.”
James is one of those old guys now.
But he’s not ready to pass any torch.
He’s shooting better this season, 54 percent, than he did in his first three MVP years. His 8.8 assists per game have him on pace for a career-best, his rebounding average is essentially the same as it was in all four MVP seasons and his scoring — 25.9 per game — is just a tick below what he did in those years where he was tabbed as the game’s best.
“I take pride in going out every night, and you knowing what you’re going to get from me every night,” James said. “I work on my game. I work on my craft. And to know that my numbers are right up there with my MVP seasons, it just lets me know I’m consistent. You can always book me for whatever my numbers say. Sometimes they’re more. Not going to be less, not that many times.”
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