Greg Cote

No better time to appreciate all-time greats LeBron, Serena, Brady and Tiger

With a victory in the Australian Open, Serena Williams could win her record 23rd Grand Slam title.
With a victory in the Australian Open, Serena Williams could win her record 23rd Grand Slam title. AP

The angry emotion he showed was pretty startling. The profanity from him was a rarity. LeBron James can make news with the most benign of comments, so it was a tsunami this week when frustration boiled and he publicly called out the Cleveland Cavaliers front office with, “We need a [bleeping] playmaker!”

It was not the controversy or outspokenness that stood out, though. We have heard LeBron play coach and GM before, if not this bluntly. No, it was something else he said as sort of an addendum to that postgame tirade, something more poignant than loud.

“I’ll be 33 in the winter,” he said, “and I ain’t got time to waste.”

The man Miami Heat fans love to hate and hate to love just turned 32 a few weeks ago, Dec. 30, but already he is jumping ahead to next winter — to his career’s winter.

LeBron is brilliant in basketball and in business, and within that smartness is acute self-awareness. The legacy-obsessed superstar knows better than anyone the window on his prime is closing by degrees. He knows that, in his 14th NBA season, he might have just another two or three fully empowered years left to add to the two NBA championships he helped win in Miami and the one he delivered to Cleveland last season.

What a fascinating time in sports, and we are watching it all happen this week: arguably the four greatest athletes in the history of their sports, all in varying stages of the end, all fighting time.

LeBron gave voice to the idea of career mortality, and he is the youngest of this quartet of all-time greatness.

Serena Williams, 35, is at the Australian Open trying to win her 23rd major, which would be a record for women’s tennis.

Tom Brady, 39, prepares for yet another Super Bowl on Feb. 5 and is favored to win his fifth, which would be a record for a quarterback.

Tiger Woods, 41, on Thursday plays his first round in a full PGA Tour event in 18 months, since various back ailments derailed a historic career.

Criticism is the currency of sports. With fans and media alike, it is. The bark gets heard more than the whisper. You get attention with complaint far more than compliment.

So this is the perfect time to appreciate instead. To wonder how much longer we will get to watch these four athletes and to enjoy them while we can.

(Closer to home, I could also include two South Florida aberrations of gerontology: the Panthers’ Jaromir Jagr, who turns 45 in February and still is skating strong, and the Marlins’ Ichiro, about to report to spring training at 43.)

LeBron, despite this week’s I-ain’t-got-time-to-waste lament, remains at full power, a newly named All-Star Game starter for the 13th season in a row.

So, too, Serena, with nine of her Grand Slam titles coming since 2012.

“Thirty’s the new 10,” she said Tuesday after advancing to the Aussie semifinals.

And Brady? His Patriots have been a Dolphins nemesis forever, but even Miami fans should allow themselves to step back and marvel. This season, Brady had the second-best passer rating and best touchdown-interception ratio of his entire career.

“I feel better at 39 than I did when I was 29,” he said this week.

Woods is the exception of these four athletes in that he is no longer at the top of his game, making this week’s comeback all the more riveting because the golfer once so, so dominant suddenly is the underdog.

Once you would have called him a sure bet to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 career majors, but not now. Tiger has been stuck on 14 since 2008.

“People have written me off,” as he put it recently.

Woods has not publicly conceded he won’t surpass Nicklaus, but he seemed to be hinting at it this week in saying, “Either way, I’ll be a part of golf history with what I’ve done.”

LeBron. Serena. Tiger. And Tom. All in the news this week, and all nearing the end of extraordinary, landmark careers.

Appreciate them all while you still can, because, to paraphrase one of them, we ain’t got time to waste.