What is LeBron James? Why is LeBron James? For twelve years the man that has put his stamp on the NBA like few others has been steadily building a legacy. He's been to the NBA Finals six times. He's won two championships. He's put together historic performances that often have felt inevitable. This Fear the Sword series covers them.
But there have been trials and tribulations and some hiccups. We've learned a lot about James, though at times it seems like we don't know very much about him at all. In terms of the player, though, it's easy to forget what kind of enigma he was coming out of high school. He played Ohio Division III ball at Akron St. Vincent St. Mary, and while his team of course scheduled some of the toughest teams in the country, the state tournaments felt like coronations his freshman and sophomore years. His junior year they were bumped to Division II and actually lost in the title game before James won a third title in four years as a senior.
Dominating? Absolutely. He was bigger and stronger than everyone else, and the incredible vision was already there. He passed almost to a fault. His handle was a bit suspect, and he wasn't much of a shooter. What might happen when he got to the NBA and couldn't impose his will on the game from sheer force? What position did he play? His coach thought he might be a point guard. His size indicated that he was a small forward that could play some at the four if he bulked up.
I was lucky enough to see him play in high school. He came to Toledo as part of the state tournament. He was already nationally famous, and people locally were curious. It was clear he was an exceptional force. It wasn't clear what kind of scorer he could be.
By the time LeBron's career kicked off in Sacramento, he had already signed a $90 million deal with Nike. He had been the number one pick of the draft of a team that openly tanked to put themselves in the position to take the hometown kid. He was selected above Carmelo Anthony, who had led Syracuse to a title in his only collegiate season, and Darko Milicic, who was a mystery but appeared to be an athletic 7 foot monster. There was a lot at stake for just about everyone, and it was on the shoulders of one 18 year old.
To belabor the point: James was hyped on a level rarely seen, but he wasn't a slam dunk all-time great. Brian Windhorst reminding us about his first preseason:
Then there was his less-than-inspiring first preseason. During two scrutinized exhibition games two weeks earlier in Los Angeles, including one on national TV, James shot a combined 8-of-31. He barely cracked 30 percent shooting during the preseason and teams were already backing off him and daring him to shoot.
After noticing a light pregame shooting workout before an ensuing preseason game in Bakersfield, Calif., one national writer asked if the hype surrounding James was an acronym for "Hey, You Practice Enough?"
So what happened? James managed to give a glimpse of just about everything that would make him special in the first quarter of his first game of his first professional season? He made jumpers, he threw no look passes, he tossed lobs, he broke away in transition, and he dunked. When it was all over, the Cavs had lost the battle (Sacramento won going away) but it was clear they would win the war. For a franchise stuck in a rut, that called Ricky Davis its best player (or atleast, he would), they had struck gold.
He finished 25 points, nine assists, four steals, six rebounds, just two turnovers. James would bulk up, he'd rise to levels of efficiency and usage rarely seen from wing players. He'd become a juggernaut in the post in Miami. He'd add a three point shot and become a capable ball handler. There were many things that he was not that night in Sacramento that he would ultimately become. He wasn't a four time MVP, he wasn't an NBA champion.
But nearly everyone who walked out of ARCO arena that night was a believer. Twelve years later, all that's left is the promised land.