Professional basketball player
Born December 30, 1984, in Akron, OH; son of Gloria James.
Addresses: Office —c/o Cleveland Cavaliers/Gund Arena Company, One Center Court, Cleveland, Ohio 44115-4001.
Signed with Cleveland Cavaliers, OH, 2003.
Awards: Mr. Basketball (Ohio) Award, 2001; Cleveland Plain Dealer 's Player of the Year, 2001, 2002; Gatorade National Player of the Year, 2002; USA Today National Player of the Year, 2002; Parade Magazine Player of the Year, 2002, 2003; NBA got milk? Rookie of the Year, 2003–04; McDonald's High School Player of the Year, 2003; Naismith Prep Player of the Year, 2003; EA Sports Roundball Classic Most Valuable Player Award; Capital Classic Most Valuable Player Award; Rookie of the Year, 2004; Olympic Games, bronze medal, 2004; ESPY Best Breakthrough, 2004; All-Star Team, 2005, 2006; All-Star Game MVP, 2006; World Championships, bronze medal, 2006.
No player in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA) has received so much attention so early in his career as LeBron James, the 18-year-old who was selected as number-one draft pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2003 NBA draft. For James, however, this kind of attention was nothing new: Ever since his freshman year in high school, James had been hailed as the next basketball superstar—the heir apparent to Michael Jordan, the retired Chicago Bulls star who many view as the best to play the game. The expectations facing James in his rookie year were immense: In Cleveland, he was viewed as a potential savior for a franchise that had struggled for years to reach the playoffs; in the NBA as a whole, he was greeted as a potential crossover marketing phenomenon who could spur sales of licensed products and tickets, and help polish the image of a league whose best young players made news as much for their legal court appearances as their play on the basketball court.
James took his first step toward realizing the expectations of many observers when he completed a successful first season in the NBA and was crowned the got milk? Rookie of the Year in April of 2004. Statistically, the 6′ 8″, 240-pound forward placed in the top five among rookies in all the major categories: He led in steals at 1.65 per game; was second in scoring, behind Carmelo Anthony, with 20.9 points per game; placed third in assists, with 5.9 per game; and was fifth in rebounding, with 5.5 boards per game. He became just the third rookie ever to average more than 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game, joining legends Oscar Robertson and Jordan. James led Rookie of the Year voting, taking 78 first place votes to 40 for fellow phenom Anthony. Most importantly to James himself—who says he is playing for his team, not his personal stats—he helped the Cavaliers more than double their victory totals from the previous year, though their 35-47 record did not earn a playoff berth.
James was born on December 30, 1984, in Akron, Ohio. He never knew his biological father, who was reputed to be a stellar street-basketball player, and remains silent about him to this day. His mother, Gloria, gave birth to James when she was just 16 years old and became his biggest fan. "My mother is my everything. Always has been. Always will be," James told Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated . James' devotion is announced to the world with the large tattoo on his arm which reads "Gloria."
By all accounts, James did not have an easy upbringing. His mother switched jobs and houses often. By the time James was five years old, they had moved seven times. Due to the unstable environment, he missed large stretches of elementary school and spent two years living with a foster family. The most stable male influence in the athlete's life as a child was his mother's boyfriend, Eddie Jackson, who James sometimes refers to as his father. However, Jackson did not always set a good example: In 2002, he was sentenced to three years in prison for mail and mortgage fraud.
Toward the end of elementary school, James found a true stabilizing influence in his life: basketball. He and his mother lived with basketball coach Frankie Walker for several years. By the time he was in eighth grade, his Amateur Athletic Union team went to the finals of the national tournament, and scouts began to notice that the young player from Akron had real talent. That talent brought James to the attention of coaches at St. Vincent-St. Mary high school in Akron, a private Catholic school, and James began attending the school in ninth grade. It was his time at St. Vincent-St. Mary that launched him on the road to stardom.
James made an instant impact as a high school player. During his freshman year he led the St. Vincent-St. Mary Fighting Irish to a 27-0 record and the Ohio state basketball championship. James averaged 18 points a game. Things only improved in the years to come. In his sophomore year (2000–01), the Fighting Irish finished with a 26-1 record and took their second state championship in a row. James averaged 25.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 3.8 steals per game. The next year the team finished second in the state, but James' statistics improved to 29.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 3.3 steals per game. By the middle of his junior year, people began to speak of the prospect of James turning pro before he even finished high school. His team began to play its games on college campuses to accommodate the overflow crowds coming to see the rising star. At just 17 years old, James was quickly becoming a national celebrity.
Despite the hype that built up around James in his high school years, his mother and his advisors at school helped him stay grounded. "St. V's has been very good for him," Gloria James told USA Today . "There's no messing around there, they're on the books and [the students] have to get good grades." She continued: "He goes to movies, loves Playstation, and gets good grades. He knows school work comes first: No work, no basketball." James was no one-sport wonder; he also played football for the Fighting Irish, earning all-state honors as a sophomore and helping his team make it to the state championship semifinals in his junior year. He was also, by his own accounts, a world-class consumer of Fruity Pebbles cereal. When he was turning pro and being offered endorsement deals, he joked to Sports Illustrated that Fruity Pebbles is "the endorsement I really want. Somebody gave me ten boxes of it for [high school] graduation. Best present I got."
By his senior year, however, the hype was inescapable. National sports networks ESPN and ESPN2 began to provide coverage of games in which James played, and every Fighting Irish game was a sellout. The pressures of competing at this level led James and his family to make some questionable decisions. When James turned 18 during his senior year, his mother borrowed $80,000 to buy him a Hummer H2 sport utility vehicle, leading many to believe that he was receiving money improperly. That same year, Gloria James and Eddie Jackson borrowed more than $100,000 to help finance travel for Jackson to negotiate shoe contracts for James; they were later sued by the businessman who loaned them the money. Ironically, the biggest trouble came when James accepted two vintage sports jerseys—valued at $845—from a Cleveland-area sports store. James was ruled ineligible for future play because the state forbids players from accepting compensation for performance. James immediately returned the jerseys, and he missed one game, but his eligibility was reinstated on appeal.
Despite the controversy surrounding his final season, James had his best year yet, averaging 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 3.4 steals per game. He led his team to its third state championship in four years, and USA Today crowned the team the high school national champions. Following that spectacular season, James made the rounds of the postseason all-star games, and he earned Most Valuable Player awards at the McDonald's High School All-American Game, the EA Sports Roundball Classic, and the Jordan Capital Classic. He was named the player of the year by several national organizations, and the Sporting News later called him "the nation's most-watched high school athlete ever." When he declared his eligibility for the NBA draft in the spring of 2003, observers knew that whichever team selected him would be getting someone special.
The Cleveland Cavaliers "earned" the right to select first in the 2003 NBA draft after winning just 17 games in the 2002–03 season, and they did not hesitate in selecting James. Pressure built in the off season, as observers wondered how coach Paul Silas and the rest of the Cavaliers team would handle the presence of the heralded rookie. From the very beginning, James' play was solid. He scored 25 points in his debut, and on March 27, 2004, became the youngest player in NBA history to score more than 40 points in a game when he lit up New Jersey for 41 points. By season's end he averaged 20.9 points per game while playing forward and sometimes guard.
Fans, coaches, players, and sportswriters loaded James with accolades for his rookie performance. Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle told the Sporting News , "Some of the things he is doing out there are just breathtaking. He makes plays we have not seen anybody make since Jordan in terms of pure strength and athletic ability and hanging and seeing things and finishing." Numbers produced by the Cavaliers bear out this observation. Strength and conditioning coach Stan Kellers told Sports Illustrated that the team tests players on vertical jump, strength, agility, body fat, and speed, and rates them on a scale of one to five. But, says Kellers, "LeBron's a six." Teammate Carlos Boozer lauded James for unselfish play, noting that James often gives up a basket to feed the ball to his teammates. "When he gets the ball," Boozer told the Sporting News , "you better have your hands up and ready and make yourself available because he is going to find you." Such praise helped earn James the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy as the got milk? Rookie of the Year in for the 2003–04 season.
There are those who have been more cautious in their estimation of the rookie sensation. Michael Jordan told Ebony that James has "unbelievable potential, but he hasn't played against the competition consistently in college or the pros…. Five years from now … he can definitely be a good pro." James himself seems to recognize that he has to pay his dues before he can raise to the top ranks of the NBA. "I don't want to be a cocky rookie coming in trying to lead right off the bat," James told Sports Illustrated . "I'm going to lead more by example…. If there's one message I want to get to my teammates it's that I'll be there for them, do whatever they think I need to do."
On February 8, 2005, James was named as a starter on the NBA's Eastern Conference All-Star team. Then in April of 2005 James made NBA history when he became the youngest player ever to score more than 50 points in one game, scoring 56 points in a game against the Toronto Raptors. James never forgot his roots. Along with his mother, he started a non-profit organization to help needy children in his hometown area. In August of 2005 James donated 1,000 backpacks full of school supplies to needy kids in the Akron and Cleveland areas. He did this personally through his non-profit organization Family Foundation, with help from Target. PR Newswire quoted him as having said, "We have been doing events like this since I was in high school and I will always be here to support the kids."
In September of 2006, James played for the United States team that won the bronze medal at the world basketball championships in Japan. James was named to the All-Star team again in 2006, when he became the game's Most Valuable Player, the youngest player ever to receive this designation. In February of 2007, James was named an Eastern Conference starter for the NBA All-Star game.
James has become a marketing phenomenon. His multi-million dollar contract with the Cavaliers amounts to peanuts beside the more than $100 million in endorsement contracts he has signed with Nike, Sprite, Powerade, Upper Deck cards, and Bubblicious bubble gum (his agent is still working on Fruity Pebbles). Assessing the rush to get James to endorse their products, Cavaliers coach Paul Silas told Sports Illustrated , "I've been around the game for 40 years, and I've never seen anything like it. It's scary." For the corporations, however, James seems like a good risk. Unlike some of his fellow NBA players, James appears to be a solid citizen. He speaks well of teammates, takes time to sign autographs, is respectful of the history of the game, and—most importantly—has not had any brushes with the law like high-profile players Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson. Even more importantly, he ap- pears to have unlimited potential as an athlete. For now, his team, his fans, and some major corporations are all invested in the idea that James is the next big thing.
A Tribute to LeBron James , Beckett/Statabase, 2003.
Jones, Ryan, King James: Believe the Hype , St. Martin's Press, 2003.
Morgan, David Lee, LeBron James , Gray & Co., 2003.
Basketball Digest , March-April 2004, p. 26.
Ebony , June 2003, p. 174; January 2004, p. 124.
Jet , May 10, 2004, p. 46; December 20, 2004, p. 48; April 11, 2005, p. 49.
New York Post , May 11, 2005, p. 87.
PR Newswire, August 29, 2005; September 28, 2005.
Sporting News , July 23, 2001, p. 60; February 10, 2003, p. 72; June 2, 2003, p. 60; July 14, 2003, p. 16; October 20, 2003, p. 40; November 17, 2003, p. 22.
Sports Illustrated , February 18, 2002, p. 62; February 10, 2003, p. 37; October 27, 2003, p. 68; October 24, 2005, p. 97.
USA Today , November 28, 2001, p. 3C; May 7, 2002; December 13, 2002, p. 3C.
"LeBron James," NBA.com, http://www.nba.com/playerfile/lebron_james/ (March 27, 2007).
"LeBron James," SI.com , http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/basketball/nba/players/3704/ (March 27, 2007).
LeBron James Website, http://www.lebronjames.com (March 27, 2007).
"LeBron Watch," Cleveland.com, http://www.cleveland.com/lebron/ (March 27, 2007).