Colors: Yellow Color

Ex-England footballer, blood cancer survivor and Cure Leukaemia Patron Geoff Thomas has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday honours list just 1 week before he rides the Tour de France for the fifth and final time.

18 years after Geoff was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia and given just 3 months to live, he will lead a team of 18 amateur cyclists as they take part in The Tour 21 from Saturday June 19th to Sunday July 11th. By cycling all 21 stages and 3,384km of the Tour de France, the team aim to raise over £1,000,000 for national blood cancer charity Cure Leukaemia, the first ever official charity partner of the Tour de France in the UK.

Cure Leukaemia recorded a £1,700,000 fundraising shortfall in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and The Tour 21 team have already raised over £753,000 towards their £1,000,000 target. All funds raised by The Tour 21 team will be invested in the national Trials Acceleration Programme (TAP) which has been solely funded by Cure Leukaemia since January 2020.

TAP is a network of specialist research nurses at 12 blood cancer centres located in the UK’s biggest cities and a facilitatory hub based at the Centre for Clinical Haematology in Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital. This network enables accelerated setup and delivery of potentially life-saving blood cancer clinical trials to run giving patients from a UK catchment area of over 20 million people access to treatments not currently available through standard care.

Ever since Geoff was declared in remission in 2005, he has dedicated his life to raising funds to give blood cancer patients hope of survival through access to clinical trials. He was instrumental in the formation of TAP in 2012 and since 2015 has raised funds for Cure Leukaemia which was co-founded by the man who saved his life Professor Charlie Craddock CBE.

Speaking of the MBE, Geoff, 56, said: “I am immensely proud and humbled to have been awarded an MBE and my thoughts immediately turned to all of the people that have helped me get here over the years. There are so many people I need to say thank you to because what we have achieved for blood cancer patients across the UK as a team is remarkable but there is so much more work that needs to be done. I hope that this news helps raise further awareness of Cure Leukaemia so that it can be established as the leading blood cancer charity in the UK.

“After so many hurdles, next week myself and the team will finally head to France to ride The Tour 21 and we are firmly focused on ensuring we raise and surpass £1,000,000 because every penny will directly benefit the 38,000 people who are diagnosed with a form of blood cancer in the UK each year.”

Cure Leukaemia Chief Executive James McLaughlin continued: “Geoff has been the driving force behind Cure Leukaemia’s growth since 2015 and he has played an instrumental role in establishing us as a national charity via our funding of the Trials Acceleration Programme.

“Geoff’s continued passion and commitment to helping blood cancer patients is inspirational and I am so thrilled that he has been awarded such a well-deserved and prestigious honour.

This fantastic news is perfect timing with Geoff due to start his fifth and final Tour de France Challenge this Saturday. And I know that he will be leading from the front in the coming weeks to ensure that he and his Tour21 teammates achieve their £1,000,000 target with those funds benefiting blood cancer patients across the UK.”

Eilish McColgan and Marc Scott were crowned British 10,000m champions as the GB & NI women took European Cup team victory and the men silver on an eventful night at the University of Birmingham track.

It was a busy evening packed with breath-taking action as the home athletes vied for national titles, European Cup points and Olympic places. McColgan, Scott and Jessica Judd all made sure of automatic selection for Tokyo but, though he finished as second Briton, Mo Farah was outside of the qualifying standard he required.

In the Women’s A race, an amazing late charge brought overall victory for McColgan as she clocked 31:19.21 to pip Israel’s Selamawit Teferi (31:19.35 PB) right on the line, while an emotional Judd made sure of her Tokyo spot as she finished close behind with a PB of 31:20.84.

Verity Ockenden also produced a personal best to finish fourth in 31:43.57, with compatriot Amy-Eloise Markovc fifth in 32:04.19. The six-strong GB & NI team was completed by Samantha Harrison in ninth with 32:38.99 and Jenny Nesbitt 12th in 32:48.48. Following after, Charlotte Arter clocked 32:17.40 for seventh place, a time which was inside the Wales qualifying standard for next year’s Commonwealth Games.

McColgan had come into the race as the only member of the British team to have gone under the Olympic qualifying standard of 31:25.00 and the home quartet of McColgan, Judd, Markovc and Ockenden had allowed Teferi to pull away.

The Israeli was first through the halfway mark in 15:40.06, a four-second lead over the four Britons, and she established what had looked like being an unassailable lead.  With Markovc and Ockenden having fallen back, Judd decided to up the pace entering the final kilometre, albeit still 15 seconds in arrears of Teferi.

McColgan went with her team-mate and, covering the closing 1000m in 2:51, including a final 200m of just under 31 seconds, surged through to take the win and secure an appearance at what will be her third Olympics, 30 years after her mother – and coach – Liz won the 10,000m world title in Tokyo.

After the race, Eilish admitted to having had her mother’s words ringing in her ears: “She said don’t leave it to the last lap because you don’t want to miss out and it turns into a 400m race rather than a 10,000m,” she said.

“I did have that in the back of my mind so I just kept reminding myself to keep calm over the last couple of laps because training is going better than ever and then there’s a lot of pressure coming into this because when you are training so well. You have one opportunity to try and knit it together on the day so I suppose there was a part of me that was like ‘don’t mess this up’. I’m absolutely buzzing.” GB & NI topped the team standings, with Italy taking silver and Poland bronze.

The Men’s A race marked Farah’s first track 10,000m contest since winning the 2017 World Championships title in 2017 but the reigning Olympic champion admitted to frustration after the race at an ankle injury which hampered his performance.

As France’s European champion Morhad Amdouni took victory in 27:23.29 ahead of Belgium’s Bashi Abdi (27:24.41) and Spaniard Carlos Mayo (27:25.00) – all PBs – Scott came through to take seventh in 27:49.94. His time on the night was outside the Olympic qualifying standard of 27:28.00 but, with already having run 27:10.40 in America earlier this year, finishing in the home top two made sure of his place.

“It’s a shame not to win the race overall but I just wanted to get the job done against the British guys,” he said.

Farah was one place behind Scott in 27:50.64 and said: “It is what it is. The last 10 days hasn’t been great but, no matter what I’ve achieved in my career, it was important that I come to the trials. It would have been easy not to show but I did show and I dug in deep. 

“With 15 laps to go I was hurting hard. I just had to keep fighting, keep digging in and finish in the top two.”

Third Briton was Emile Cairess, who had the race of his life in the 10th place with a PB of 27:53.19 which is also inside the Team England Commonwealth qualifying standard. Matt Leach was 13th in 28:22.33, while there was a PB for Kristian Jones one place back in 28:23.50. The other member of the GB & NI team, Jake Smith did not finish but Britain still finished second in the team standings behind France and ahead of Spain.

Ellis Cross was the top British finisher in the Men’s European Cup B Race as he came through to clock 29:10.64, his third-fastest performance over the distance. Nigel Martin was 13th in a personal best of 29:22.28, with Omar Ahmed also producing the fastest 10,000m of his career with 29:25.94 for 14th.

Italy’s Pietro Riva produced a dominant performance in the Men’s European Cup B Race to win in 28:25.70, with Iceland’s Hlynur Andrésson second in 28:36.64 and Estonia’s Tiidrek Nurme third in 28:37.61. The top four all clocked personal bests.

Sally Ratcliffe was the first British athlete home in the Women’s European Cup B race, as she came home in eighth place in a time of 34:39.53, while Elisha Tait clocked 35:40.54 for 14th and Kate Drew finished 16th in 36:36.99. Victory went to Tereza Hrochová of the Czech Republic as she won an entertaining battle with Anna Arnaudo to win in a time of exactly 33 minutes as her Italian rival came home in 33:02.70. Poland’s Angelica Mach was third in 33:26.29 as the top seven finishers all recorded personal bests.

In the first 10,000m contest of the meeting, Max Milarvie made an impressive debut over the distance on the track when winning a tight battle with Paulos Surafel. Milarvie was outside the qualifying standard for this summer’s European U23 Championships but kicked away to take victory in a time of 29:22.78, with Surafel clocking 29:25.62. Jonathan Escalante-Phillips was third in 29:32.51.

The evening’s schedule began with a men’s 1500m Para contest, which was won convincingly by Owen Miller in 3:58.68. The 2019 WPA World Championships sixth placer came home ahead of Steven Bryce, who clocked 4:07.16 and the 4:07.43 of James Hamilton.

Birmingham County FA (BCFA) have just announce that its ‘Save Today, Play Tomorrow’ project has teamed up with Pledgeball for the 2021/22 season to enable all clubs, teams and supporters to sign up to the first-ever County FA Sustainable Football Pledge and make a difference. When clubs affiliate with BCFA for the forthcoming season they will be asked to sign the Sustainability Pledge, which is linked to simple and small lifestyle changes that collectively make a huge impact on the planet.

For many, climate change is a difficult and complex subject to connect with – it is hard to know what to do and whether, as individuals, we can make a difference. Pledgeball offers a mechanism by which behaviour change can be brought about in a fun and easy way, empowering individuals by demonstrating the potential impact we can have by making small lifestyle changes, particularly in association with our football clubs.

Pledgeball already offer the facility for football fans to support their professional club and have recently announced partnerships with Huddersfield Town Supporters' Association and Bristol City Football Club. Football offers an unparalleled platform to bring about this change and Pledgeball offers a means by which to do this. 

Katie Cross, Founder of Pledgeball, said: “As a member of Bristol-based Misfits WFC, I am well aware of the potential for teams and clubs to make change happen. The football community is a unique place from which to initiate transformational change, with the regular fixtures, the unity, the wide-reach and the emotion that accompanies the sport. I am delighted about the partnership with Birmingham County FA – our potential to have a real impact, both in reducing our footprints and in spreading this much further afield, is huge.”

Richard Lindsay, Business Insights Manager at Birmingham County FA and Project Lead for Save Today, Play Tomorrow, added: “We are excited to have partnered with Pledgeball for the forthcoming season. To be able to bring our clubs on this journey of change is fantastic, and through their digital platform they have developed a really engaging way for football to consider lifestyle alternatives and to be able to visualise the positive impact this has had on our environment.”

By its very nature football is competitive and for those clubs that sign up to Pledgeball they will be able to see in real-time a Birmingham County FA league table showing how their club or team is performing based on the Carbon emission saving activities they pledge to complete. Success will be celebrated and for those clubs involved Birmingham County FA has ringfenced grant funding available to help support infrastructure changes.  

Birmingham County FA will formally launch the Save Today, Play Tomorrow sustainability project this month.

Maria Lyle [Women’s T35 100m] and Zak Skinner [Men’s T13 Long Jump] both set Championship records as they added to their own gold medal tally to round-off a successful 2021 European Para Athletics Championships for the British team.

Lyle and Skinner were two of five gold medallists on the final day in Bydgoszcz with Aled Davies [Men’s F63 Shot Put], Libby Clegg & Chris Clarke [Women’s T11 200m] and Fabienne André [Women’s T34 800m] all winning gold on Saturday (5 June) to take GB & NI’s final gold medal tally to 14 as bronze medals for Ali Smith [Women’s T38 400m final], Harri Jenkins [Men’s T33/T34 Final] and Zac Shaw [T12 100m final] completed the team’s total medal haul of 37.

The British team did not have to wait long for gold in Saturday’s final session as the first track event of the evening saw Maria Lyle (Jamie Bowie; Team East Lothian) complete the sprint double in style, clocking a Championship record as she added the T35 100m European title to her T35 200m gold from day two.

The 21-year-old got off to a brilliant start, racing away from her opponents to establish a clear advantage within the opening metres. It was an advantage that continued to grow with Lyle finishing more than a second-and-a-half ahead of her closest rival.

Lyle crossed the line in a time of 14.39 (1.1m/s), knocking over half-a-second off the European record she set at her debut Championships in 2014 at the age of just 14, rounding-off another memorable week for the Scottish athlete.

Speaking after securing her second gold and second Championship record of the week, Lyle said: “I am really happy to win another gold. My start was good, maybe I just tightened up a wee bit, but overall, I’m happy with my race and it’s nice to have the opportunity to put your training into practice.

“I am happy with where I am [in 2021] my coach and I decided to come here in preparation for Tokyo, hopefully, in a couple of months, just to get that feel of big champs, going through a call room and all the normal procedures, so I’m really lucky to be selected and be part of a great team. It’s been really nice to be part of the team.”

Zak Skinner (Aston Moore; Loughborough Students) also did the double as the 22-year-old set a new Championship record to take the win in the men’s T13 Long Jump to add to his T13 100m gold from earlier in the Championships.

It was a brilliant battle between Skinner and Spain’s Ivan Jose Cano Blanco in the long jump final as the Spaniard took the lead in round two, surpassing Skinner’s first round attempt of 6.69m (+0.2m/s) by 10cm. But the advantage was soon back with Skinner. Taking to the runway for round three, the Loughborough athlete knew he needed a response and he delivered superbly; recording a personal best and Championship record distance of 6.92m (-1.5m/s).

It has also been a Championships to remember for Fabienne André (Jenny Archer; Weir Archer Academy) as she claimed her second gold medal of her debut European Championships to ensure it was a golden end for British squad.

Having won gold in the women’s T34 100m on Thursday, the Weir Archer Academy athlete was back on the track in the women’s T34 800m, the final event in Bydgoszcz. André took the race on from the front, ensuring she had the advantage over Russia’s Veronika Doronina as the athletes broke away from their lanes on the opening lap. Always holding an advantage, André made her move with 200m to go, finishing nearly seven seconds quicker than Doronina.

André’s time of 2:15.18 not only sealed another gold medal but also lowered her PB to 2:15.18. After the race André said: “To come away with a PB in the 800m and a gold medal is incredible. This is the last event of the Championships, so it is mad to be the last British athlete competing and I’m just really happy to finish it strongly. I’m looking forward to more opportunities, hopefully, in the future.

“I wasn’t sure how to play the race. I was just going round thinking I’ve got to go for it, I knew I had lots left in the tank, so I just had to leave it all out on the track. It has all been incredible. I haven’t been racing for that long, so this has been great for me. To come away with medals and PBs makes me so happy.”

Libby Clegg (Joe McDonnell; Charnwood) and Chris Clarke won gold in a thrilling women’s T11 200m final which saw the pair need to use all their experience and teamwork to claim the title in what was only their third race together in five years.

The double Paralympic champions from Rio 2016 showed real speed, strength and synchronicity to power through in the final 50m in what was a real battle down the home straight as the three eventual medallists lined-up across the track. Clegg and Clarke crossed the line in 27.41 (+0.7m/s) to seal another major championship title.

Reflecting on her first major championships gold since the birth of her son Edward in 2019, Clegg said: “This has been a long journey for us to get to this point. It hasn’t been the easiest five years so to win a gold medal at a European Championships is amazing. Any sort of international medal you have to be happy with. I’m so pleased I get to take a medal home for Edward.

“I’ve really lacked confidence over the last few years, so for me to come here, not running the quickest of times, but just making it through and winning it makes me quite happy. It’s going to feel pretty good getting back on that podium. It’s been a rough time with mental health issues, Chris ruptured his Achilles, I had a baby, it’s been an interesting few years.”

The golden rush was started earlier in the session when Aled Davies (Ryan Spencer-Jones; Cardiff) took to the circle in the Men’s F63 Shot Put as he looked to win his seventh European title.

The 30-year-old led after round 1 with his first attempt of 13.83m but two F63 Championship records by Tom Habscheid of Luxembourg saw Davies in second at the halfway stage following fouls on his second and third attempts.

Davies responded on his fourth attempt, throwing 15.17m to reclaim the lead, a distance which would secure another gold for the double Paralympic champion and seven-time world champion.

Speaking after winning another gold, Davies said: “It was a different one from me; I wasn’t myself out there today, so many emotions. I really need to respect the rust as they say.

“It’s been a while since I’ve competed properly, I’m in great shape, this doesn’t really resemble where I am at so I’m glad to get this one out of the way. Hopefully now this is the first step towards the build-up to Tokyo, but I definitely need a few more competitions, I think.”

The medal success kept coming on the track with Ali Smith (Benke Blomkvist; Guildford & Godalming), Harri Jenkins (Nathan Stephens; DSW Para Academy) and Zac Shaw (Leon Baptiste; Cleethorpes) all claiming bronze medals in their respective events.

Smith – who finished sixth in the women’s T38 100m earlier in the week - set a personal best of 1:03.91 in a very quick 400m final, with race winner Luca Ekler of Hungary setting a new world record.

With a three-point plan of “relax”, “go” and “run my own race” written on her arm, Smith ran under 1:04 for the first time to claim European bronze while chasing down gold and silver position in the final 100m.

Another bronze on the track quickly followed in the Men’s T33/T34 Final with Jenkins stopping the clock in a time of 18.64 (+0.9m/s) to finish third ahead of teammate and Championship debutant James Freeman (Jenny Archer; Weir Archer Academy).

With the two T34 athletes pulling away to challenge each other for gold, the battle for bronze was between Jenkins and Freeman, with Jenkins having the advantage on the line, a second ahead of Freeman, who also recorded a season’s best (19.66).

After being an integral member of the silver-medal winning 4x100m Universal Relay team on Friday evening, Zac Shaw was back 24 hours later with another medal around his neck. In the penultimate event on the track, Shaw took bronze in a high-quality men’s T12 100m final, lowering his personal best to 11.06 (+1.0m/s) to clinch the medal on the line and hold off the challenge of Germany’s Marcel Boettger.

Dan Sidbury (Christine Parsloe; Sutton & District) ended his busy week with fourth-place in the men’s T54 5000m. Already going home with silver in the Men’s 1500m T54, Sidbury kept himself in medal contention throughout the 5000m final, his fifth race of the week, positioning himself in the leading group, including a spell setting the pace at the front.

Battling for the medals down the home straight, Sidbury finished just behind the bronze medallist of Julien Casoli of France with the top-four athletes separated by only 0.45 seconds.

Polly Maton (Colin Baross; Team Devizes) rounded-off her Championships with eighth in the women’s T47 100m; a week that saw the 21-year-old claim bronze in the long jump with a PB of 5.28m.

Para Athletics Head Coach Paula Dunn reflected on the Championships, “I am so proud of this team and their performances this week. This was our first major Championships since the Worlds in 2019, and we’ve seen several fantastic performances across the board. I’ve been very impressed with our young athletes who are progressing through the Performance Pathway. So many athletes have stepped up at these Championships, so the future looks bright for the sport in this country.

“Ahead of the Tokyo Paralympic Games, this was going to be an important marker for a number of athletes. For some, their performances will have given them a boost in confidence to push on for this summer and beyond. For others, it will have provided that motivation to come back even stronger.

“I’m so pleased with the whole team. These are a Championships like no other, and I’m proud of how the team have conducted themselves and adapted to the challenges and restrictions they have faced. We are grateful to all the organisers who have made this event possible.”

British medallists (37):

Gold (14): Fabienne André [Women’s T34 100m and 800m], Columba Blango [Men’s T20 400m], Libby Clegg and Chris Clarke [Women’s T11 200m], Aled Davies [Men’s F63 Shot Put], Kayleigh Haggo [Women’s RR3 100m], Sophie Hahn [Women’s T38 100m], Maria Lyle [Women’s T35 100m and 200m], Daniel Pembroke [Men’s F13 Javelin], Zak Skinner [Men’s T13 100m and Long Jump], Rafi Solaiman [Men’s RR3 100m], Thomas Young [Men’s T38 100m], Maria Lyle [Women’s T35 100m],

Silver (9): John Bridge [Men’s T47 400m], Jonathan Broom-Edwards [Men’s T42/44/62/64 High Jump], Shaun Burrows [Men’s T38 400m], Lydia Church [Women’s F12 Shot Put], Kyron Duke [Men’s F41 Shot Put], Dan Greaves [Men’s F64 Discus], Danny Sidbury [Men’s T54 1500m], Vanessa Wallace [Women’s F34 Shot Put], 4x100m Universal Relay

Bronze (14): Ola Abidogun [Men’s T47 100m], Olivia Breen [Women’s T38 Long Jump], Harri Jenkins [Men’s T33/T34 Final], Nathan Maguire [Men’s T54 400m and 800m], Polly Maton [T47 Long Jump], Luke Nuttall [Men’s T46 1500m], Stef Reid [Women’s T64 Long Jump], Zac Shaw [T12 100m final], Luke Sinnott [Men’s T63 Long Jump], Ali Smith [Women’s T38 400m final], Emily Stewart [Women’s F38 Discus], Alexander Thomson [Men’s T38 400m], Harrison Walsh [Men’s F64 Discus]

The ACE Programme is officially underway in Birmingham, delivered by Warwickshire County Cricket Club and the Warwickshire Cricket Board to help reinvigorate love for cricket within the city's Black community. With seven schools in North West Birmingham signed up, local youngsters recently took part in a special ACE Programme cricket session at Handsworth Cricket Club.

Since the start of the school summer term, each for the schools has received a full day of cricket delivered by former Bears fast bowler Recordo Gordon and fellow coach Ron Barker. Local youngsters can also take advantage of further sessions, delivered for children aged nine to 18, every Monday at Handsworth CC and every Friday at Holford Drive Community Sports Hub in Perry Barr.

"Getting ACE underway in Birmingham is a huge step forward for the local cricketing community," said Eaton Gordon, Warwickshire Cricket Board Cricket Development Manager (Community) and Birmingham Lead of ACE. "Cricket in the city's African Caribbean community has dropped significantly in recent years, and we are certainly not underestimating the challenge ahead in revitalising this love for the game.

"Our initial focus is on growing the level of participation in schools, but we hope that these new cricket sessions will inspire many of these youngsters to join in each week at Handsworth CC and Holford Drive and to get involved in the local Club game."

Warwickshire Cricket Board is also using the weekly cricket sessions to inspire youngsters to take part in wider cricket programmes that are delivered by local recreational clubs, including the All Stars programme for children aged five to eight and Dynamos for children aged eight to 11.

Stuart Cain, Chief Executive of Warwickshire CCC, said: "We must represent the communities we serve and can't avoid the fact that cricket isn't what it was to the region's African Caribbean community.

"ACE has the potential to provide a spark which reignites a passion for cricket and unearths the Bears players of the future. Alongside this, we want to rebuild a vibrant club scene as this used to be the cornerstone of the city's African Caribbean community providing strong foundations for wider social cohesion.  

“Lofty aims and it will take time as we're starting this programme with a blank sheet of paper, but we can't delay." The ACE Programme is now a charity that was developed in 2020 by Surrey County Cricket Club to address a 75 per cent decline in cricket participation by members of the Black community.

In October it was awarded £540,000 funding from Sport England, delivered over a three-year period, and a grant from the ECB.

For more information on the ACE PROGRAMME<http://aceprogramme.com/>, please contact Eaton Gordon on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.<mailto:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>.

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For further media information and photography, please contact Tom Rawlings on 0121 446 3657 / 07770 728409 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.<mailto:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Since the inception of sport, one opponent remains undefeated for any athlete - regardless of ability, competitive spirit or resilience: Father Time.

It could be argued that LeBron James has put up the toughest fight yet, having been the dominant force in the NBA for the best part of two decades. But after the 36-year-old's team, the Los Angeles Lakers, were knocked out in the first round of this season's play-offs, there are those who've been left wondering: Is this the end of an era?

"He's been doing this for half of his life at the highest level - and a lot of people won't understand what it takes not only to compete but remain at that level," Myles Hesson, the Great Britain men's basketball captain, said.

"I wouldn't say it's the end of an era - more like the changing of an era. I think we've come to a point where he needs help, maybe more help than he needed before." James is widely considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time - if not the greatest.

Many players, coaches, commentators and fans often agree it's a direct toss-up between James and Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan. James has won the NBA Championship four times - with three different teams - a feat many see as testament to his ability to transform the fortune of a franchise.

During his 18 seasons in the NBA, he has led his team to the play-offs on 15 occasions.

Before the recent 113-100 loss to the Phoenix Suns - who won their best-of-seven series 4-2 - he had never failed to make it past the first round.

James, originally drafted as the first overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003, has been described as one of the most durable athletes of all time - largely enjoying an injury-free career. While there may be some luck involved, he also reportedly spends significant amounts of money each year on nutrition, conditioning and recovery techniques.

But Ryan Richards, a Britain-born player drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 2010, who is now with Petro de Luanda in the NBA affiliated Basketball Africa League (BAL), wonders how much longer James will be at the very top.

"Last night I was expecting vintage LeBron - but it's the age - Father Time is coming," Richards said. "I believe he went into last night's game believing he could win it, you know, and activate 'Play-off LeBron mode' but things just didn't go his way.

"You can't take away the greatness because I think he's the smartest player to ever play the game but I think he realises the game is changing." In a season shortened from 82 to 72 games because of coronavirus restrictions, James missed more than 25 matches with an ankle injury.

And before the start of the play-offs, he told reporters he didn't expect to 100% fit again before the end of the season. This season saw him record a career low points-per-game average of 22.3. At times, he has resorted to long-range shooting, with fewer of his energy-sapping bursts to the basket.

"He still looks amazing and those numbers are still insane but I think there need to be changes," Richards said. "I think the Lakers will use the summer to bring in another big name to help out. There's talk he wants to partner up with Stephen Curry or maybe they'll go for someone like Russell Westbrook.

"I think he needs another star - someone he can lean on. I personally know players who've played with LeBron and he kills your own confidence because he's so great. You have to be ready like a microwave scorer - come in hot and impact the game - play a role for six months and be part of the LeBron show."

With a whole summer to recover and recuperate, James could yet come back next season and prove the doubters wrong. It has been suggested that James - who has always said he wants to play for as long as he can - could stay in the NBA for another two years.

At that point, his son - LeBron 'Bronny' James Jr - would be eligible to join the league. James has put the Lakers' early play-off exit down to their injury problems this year: star forward Anthony Davis missed half the season and limped out after five minutes of the decisive defeat by the Suns.

"We never got an opportunity to see our full team," James said. "We could never fully get into a rhythm." The strain of Covid-19 protocols had an effect too. "From the moment we entered the bubble to today, it's been draining," James said. "Mentally, spiritually, emotionally draining.

"Every team has to deal with it, obviously, but with us and Miami going long-haul in the bubble and coming back on short notice, it's been very draining." Hesson, who plays for Elan Chalon in France's LNB Pro A, believes James will make sure he quits at the right time.

"It's a personal thing for him - he'll know when it's time to hang it up," Hesson said. "I personally still watch him play even when he's not on top form just to see how his basketball mind affects and makes others around him better players."

But if James' star is fading, Hesson says the NBA is in good shape when it comes to finding faces to continue to excite fans for years to come. "I don't think there's one face right now," he said. "I think there are a few guys leading their teams in different ways.

"You've got Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker, Luka Doncic. Kevin Durant is doing his thing. I kind of like it like this. It's more of an even playing field, where one team or player isn't dominating."