Everyone wants to know if he will be the next Michael Jordan in basketball. I guess that remains to be seen. No matter what, LeBron James will be LeBron James, and he is a remarkable young basketball player and leader. Here is a biography from JockBio on the Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James.
By the way, this is a request story by one of our field's leader, Stuart Rogel at the Tampa Bay Partnership. Great idea, Stuart. Than you!
LeBron James isn’t the first high schooler to jump to the NBA, but he may already be the best. His basketball IQ hovers at genius level, his physical skills are off the charts, and despite being one of the NBA’s youngest starters, he has already displayed the leadership skills of a championship-level veteran. LeBron makes the game look easy—unless you are wearing an enemy uniform. This is his story…
LeBron James was born on December 30, 1984, in Akron, Ohio. His mother, Gloria James, was only 16 at the time. His biological father, Anthony McClelland, was an ex-con uninterested in being a parent. Gloria raised LeBron on her own, and to this day he goes by her last name.
Life was often a struggle for LeBron and his mother. Gloria battled personal problems during much of his childhood. Some of those were brought on by the death of her mother, who passed away when LeBron was an infant. Bouncing between retail and accounting jobs, Gloria was never able to land steady work, and she and LeBron moved from apartment to apartment. The pair got to know all the seedier neighborhoods of Akron, a city of more than 200,000 located less than a hour south of Cleveland.
Despite her failings, Gloria worked hard to be a loving mother and shield LeBron from the poverty and violence of the streets. This was no easy chore, and at times made her choice of boyfriends seem puzzling. When LeBron was two, she started dating Eddie Jackson. In and out of trouble with the law, he went to prison in 1990 for aggravated cocaine trafficking. (In 2002, he pled guilty to mortgage fraud and mail fraud.) Nevertheless LeBron formed a bond with Jackson, and Gloria liked having a man around who was willing to serve as a father figure. Her brothers, Terry and Curt, also helped out.
From an early age, LeBron showed tremendous instincts for basketball. Gloria gave him a miniature hoop and ball when he was an infant, and he amused himself for hours each day with the toys. LeBron also had the genes necessary to spawn a long-limbed basketball phenom. Though Gloria stands only 5-5, she has relatives who are much taller.
The strain of the Jameses’ nomadic lifestyle began to take its toll when LeBron entered elementary school. Embarrassed by his home life, he didn’t make friends easily. And thought he wanted to do well in school, focusing on his studies was difficult. He found an outlet for his emotions and intelligence in sports. Basketball and football were his favorites. By now LeBron had developed into a superb athlete. In addition to his natural speed, quickness and strength, he could think his way around the court or gridiron. His hero was Michael Jordan, and he patterned his hoops game after his idol’s. LeBron liked taking it to the hole, as well as launching jumpers, but he took a special delight in distributing the basketball to his teammates.
In football, LeBron usually played receiver. He scored 19 touchdowns in six games in his first year of Pee Wee football. His coach was Frankie Walker, a man who would soon have a profound effect on his life. After the season ended, Walker began hearing stories that his young star, now a fourth-grader, was missing school on a regular basis. He soon discovered that LeBron had all but dropped out. Walker confronted Gloria, who admitted that her son needed a more stable living environment. They agreed that Lebron should move in with Walker and his family.
LeBron quickly took to his new surroundings. Walker and his wife, Pam, had three kids, Chanelle, Frankie Jr. and Tanesha. Everyone in the household, including LeBron, was responsible for daily chores. The structure did wonders for him. As a fifth grader, he received his school’s attendance award.
Walker also had a positive impact on Lebron’s basketball. Among other things, he taught the youngster how to shoot with his left hand.
After 18 months of living separately from her son, Gloria took him back. But when financial problems arose, LeBron returned to the Walkers. Eventually they worked out an arrangement to help Gloria pay her rent. Walker and his wife wanted to ensure that LeBron always had a place in the Akron area he could call home.
For LeBron, another advantage of living with the Walkers was his friendship with Frankie Jr. The two ran with four other boys—Sian Cotton, Dru Joyce III, Willie McGee and Romeo Travis. Together they formed a terrific team on the basketball court. On Sunday nights they gathered at the Akron Jewish Community Center, where Keith Drambot, the former head coach at Central Michigan University, put them through their paces.
LeBron and Dru, who played point guard, became extremely close friends. In fact, when LeBron was 12, he spent most of that summer living with Joyce’s family.
ON THE RISE
It didn't take long for LeBron and his crew to gain recognition around Akron. They learned the fundamentals of basketball from Drambot and developed tremendous chemistry with one another. Literally and figuratively, LeBron was head-and-shoulders above his friends. By the eighth grade he was six feet tall, could play all five positions and had a sixth sense for the game.
Calling themselves the Northeast Ohio Shooting Stars, LeBron and his pals—coached by Joyce’s father—made a splash on the national scene in 1997 by qualifying for the Under/6th Grade AAU National Championships in Salt Lake City, Utah. Two years later they went all the way to the AAU Under/8th Grade final, in Orlando, Florida. The Shooting Stars won their first five games to set up a showdown with the Southern California All-Stars. They lost a heartbreaker, 68-66, but LeBron was the big story with his sparkling play.
By then LeBron, Joyce, Cotton and McGee—the self-proclaimed "Fab Four"—had arrived at a decision. They were a package deal, and pledged to continue their hoops careers together. The foursome settled on Saint Vincent-Saint Mary High School, a parochial school in downtown Akron. Best known for its tradition of academic excellence, SVSM was about to establish a new legacy, with LeBron leading the way.
Before he hit the hardwood, LeBron buckled up his chin strap as a wideout for SVSM football coach Jay Brophy, a former NFL linebacker who spent time with the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets. The freshman made his varsity basketball debut weeks later on December 3, earning a spot in the Fighting Irish starting backcourt. The decision to go with LeBron was an easy one for Keith Drambot, who had recently been hired as SVSM’s coach. Wearing Jordan’s number 23, LeBron, now 6-3, contributed 15 points in a blowout over parochial rival Cuyahoga Falls.
With LeBron and Maverick Carter (his cousin and an all-state senior) headlining a talented team, the Fighting Irish posted a perfect 27-0 record and captured the state championship, the school’s first since 1984. LeBron averaged just under 20 points, shot better than 50 percent from the field and was among the team leaders in rebounds, assists and steals. His instincts were amazing considering his age, and he demonstrated that intangible quality of making everyone else on the court better. Rumor had it that IMG, the Cleveland-based representation firm, was already putting out feelers to him.
The summer after his freshman season saw LeBron continue to improve. But the biggest change came off the court, where he grew nearly four inches, to 6-7. LeBron now looked more like a man than a boy.
LeBron played another year of football at SVSM in the fall of 2000, racking up more than 700 yards receiving. He was named All-Ohio, but the Fighting Irish finished at a disappointing 4-6.
As LeBron prepared for the basketball season, word began to spread that SVSM had a bona fide phenom on its hands. Expecting a huge crowd for their 2000-01 season opener, the Fighting Irish scheduled the game at the University of Akron’s James A. Rhodes Arena. Some 5,000 fans packed the house. LeBron paced SVSM to an easy victory, and the team rolled from there.
The Fighting Irish faced their stiffest test against Oak Hill Academy during a tournament in January. The Warriors—led by center DeSagna Diop and swingman Rashaad Carruth—were the nation's top-ranked prep squad. LeBron and his teammates entered the contest undefeated. In a classic, Oak Hill barely hung on for a 79-78 victory. But in what was becoming a habit, LeBron stole the show. With a small army of NBA and college scouts in attendance, he torched the Warriors for 33 points, nailing bombs from beyond the 3-point arc, hitting on leaners in the lane and finishing the break with rim-rattling dunks. LeBron actually could have won it for SVSM, but he missed a pair of free throws late in the fourth quarter and his desperation jumper at the buzzer rimmed out.
The Fighting Irish rebounded from the defeat in impressive fashion. They ran the table the rest of the regular season, then stormed through the state playoffs for their second straight title. The final, played at Ohio State’s Jerome Schottenstein Center, attracted a sellout crowd of more than 17,000, including North Carolina head coach Matt Doherty and California head coach Ben Braun. LeBron, who poured in 54 points in his team’s two playoff wins, was a no-brainer as tournament MVP.
For the year LeBron averaged 25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. He also increased his proficiency from downtown, connecting on 39 percent of his treys. Named an All-American (along with the likes of Eddie Curry and Kwame Brown), LeBron became the first sophomore in Ohio history to be voted the state’s Mr. Basketball.
MAKING HIS MARK
LeBron began the summer after his sophomore year in Colorado Springs at the USA Basketball Development Festival. The first underclassman ever invited to the camp, he broke the festival scoring record with 120 points in five games and was named MVP.
At his next stop, adidas’s ABCD Camp at Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, LeBron officially arrived on the national scene. Going into the week, the player attracting the most attention was Lenny Cooke, a 6-8 forward from New York.
Cooke, who was planning to enter the NBA draft, was completely overshadowed by LeBron, who took control of the camp. With a camera crew from ESPN’s “The Life” following his every move and college and pro scouts looking on, he flashed his full offensive arsenal and played suffocating defense. But what blew away everyone were LeBron’s passing skills. Up until this point, most had labeled him the next Jordan. Now comparisons to Magic Johnson started.
Still, at times during the camp, LeBron seemed almost bored by the competition, and his focus wavered. It was when challenged that he shone brightest. He first turned heads in a featured game for underclassmen. The contest’s MVP, he tallied 22 points, seven assists and four rebounds. Later he matched up against Cooke in a showdown anticipated by everyone at the camp. Cooke tried to set the tone on an early possession, dribbling between his legs several times before nailing a 3-pointer. But LeBron got the last laugh. He hit for 24 points, held Cooke to just nine, and drilled a 25-footer at the buzzer to deliver a last-second victory.
After the ABCD camp, a rumor—floated in The New York Times and helped along a little by LeBron—surfaced that he was thinking of declaring himself eligible for the NBA draft after his junior season at SVSM. While he eventually denied the claim, it contributed to the growing legend of “King James." After running a feature on the 16-year-old, SLAM recruited him to pen a regular column for the hip-hop hoops magazine.
Meanwhile, Michael Jordan invited LeBron to join him in an exclusive workout, where he scrimmaged against the likes of Antoine Walker, Michael Finley, Juwan Howard and Penny Hardaway. LeBron struck up a friendship with Walker, a product of Chicago’s Mt. Carmel basketball factory, and still counts him among his most trusted advisors.
When LeBron returned home, he strapped on the pads for his junior year of football. Gloria was opposed to the idea, afraid he might get injured and jeopardize his hoops career. But LeBron persisted. After sitting out the opener, he hauled in three scoring passes a week later. Despite a steady dose of double-coverage, LeBron wound up with 52 receptions for more than 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns. SVSM, meanwhile, experienced a tremendous turnaround, going 7-3 and qualifying for the state playoffs. In the Fighting Irish’s first post-season game, a 28-20 victory, LeBron fractured the index finger on his left hand. He chose to keep the injury quiet and take the field for the state final. SVSM lost, and LeBron suspected he had likely played his last football game.
The junior immediately turned his attention to the hardwood. By now speculation about his future was running rampant. With a solid B average, he would probably have his choice of colleges. On his short list were Cal, Florida, Michigan, Ohio State, North Carolina and Duke. But many questioned whether LeBron was really considering college. Though a good student, he was a basketball player first and foremost. And with the hype around him building, he was being exposed more and more to the trappings of life as a pro. Eddie Jackson raised eyebrows by buying him a Ford Explorer. His name appeared in newspaper headlines across the nation. Nike and adidas were in a fierce battle to sign him. Reports said the final offer could reach $20 million.
Against this backdrop, LeBron began his junior basketball season. In as coach for SVSM was Dru Joyce, the father of LeBron’s best friend and the team’s point guard. The Fighting Irish faced one of the toughest schedules in the country. Indeed, nearly half of the school’s opponents were ranked nationally. LeBron and his teammates opened against Germantown (Pa.) Academy, which featured a pair of stars, Lee Melchionni and Matt Walsh. Thanks to LeBron’s 38 points and 17 rebounds, SVSM won 70-64. Next, at the JAR Arena, the Fighting Irish registered a 49-41 victory over Vashon of St. Louis and their shifty point guard, Jimmy McKinney. LeBron led the way with 26 points.
SVSM rode the momentum from those victories into the Slam Dunk to the Beach, a Christmas tournament held in Delaware. There the Fighting Irish fell for the first time, an 84-83 loss to Amityville of New York. LeBron almost gave his team a dramatic win with a four-point play near the end of regulation. But Amityville followed with two free throws to seize the lead for good. Weeks later, in a game against local rival Brush, LeBron felt like he was back on the gridiron. Roy Hall, a well muscled guard headed to Ohio State on a football scholarship, bodied him all over the court. LeBron responded with a grinding defensive effort, limiting Hall to eight points in an easy victory.
In February SVSM suffered its first two-game losing streak since LeBron joined the team. The first defeat came in a highly anticipated rematch with Oak Hill, at the Prime Time Shootout in Trenton, NJ. Though LeBron sizzled with 36 points, it wasn’t enough to overcome the Warriors and their top gun, Carmelo Anthony, who poured in 34. The Fighting Irish were beaten again a week later by George Junior Republic of Pennsylvania.
The pair of losses did nothing to diminish LeBron’s reputation. Kobe Bryant, hoping to lure the teenager to adidas, gave him a special pair of sneakers decorated with American flags. While in Cleveland to play the Cavs, Shaquille O’Neal caught one of LeBron’s games at the JAR Arena.
The Fighting Irish, meanwhile, embarked on a new winning streak that fueled another run to the state final. In front of 20,000 screaming fans on the Ohio State campus, however, they failed in their quest for three titles in a row, losing 71-63 to Roger Bacon of Cincinnati. LeBron, who battled back spasms all night long, wasn’t at his best, and his teammates were unable to pick up the slack.
LeBron finished the year averaging 28 points, six assists and just under nine rebounds. An All-American on everybody’s list, he was named National Player of the Year by Gatorade, USA Today and Parade Magazine. But LeBron wasn’t completely satisfied with his season. His greatest cause for concern was the drop in his 3-point shooting (34%) and free throws (59.3%). He resolved to spend extra time in the gym working on both areas.
Among those who believed LeBron’s game didn’t need much tinkering was Cavaliers coach John Lucas. He had seen him in an AAU tournament the previous summer, and got to know him personally because LeBron often hung out at Cleveland’s Gund Arena. Ignoring NBA rules, Lucas invited the 17-year-old to an informal workout with the Cavs. LeBron impressed with dunks over Jumaine Jones and Chris Mihm, but again it was his ability to see the court and make pinpoint passes that attracted the most oohs and aahs.
The practice session earned Lucas a $150,000 fine from the NBA and got him suspended for two games. But he felt he got off cheap. Watching LeBron up close and personal was more than worth the penalties handed down by the league.
LeBron had plans for a full summer of hoops, but was sidelined after breaking his left wrist in an AAU game. He still made the rounds at all the major camps—and displayed a devilish sense of humor when he showed up at adidas’s ABCD wearing a pair of Nikes, then donned adidas shoes for the Nike All-American! During his downtime, LeBron worked on his endurance with a personal trainer. He also reflected on how much basketball meant to him. When he returned to the court, friends and family noticed a fresh bounce in his step.
They also noticed the circus the teenager’s life had become—not that everyone, including LeBron, wasn’t participating in the spectacle. SVSM struck a deal to broadcast all 10 of its home games throughout northeast Ohio on pay-per-view at $7.95 a pop. ESPN2 agreed to televise the school’s December contest against Oak Hill. Season-ticket packages for the Fighting Irish at the JAR Arena soared to $125.
At this stage of the game. it was becoming rather obvious to just about everyone who knew LeBron that he would soon be playing in the NBA—and probably bypass college. Eager to maximize her son’s earning potential, Gloria enlisted Eddie Jackson to assume full control of “Team LeBron.” They took meetings with all comers, fielding offers that promised to make LeBron a millionaire several times over. The competition between adidas and Nike also heated up. Word was that LeBron’s asking price was up to $25 million.
The Fighting Irish opened the 2002-03 season after Thanksgiving, at home against Wellston. With 2,000 spectators crammed into the SVSM gym, LeBron led his team to a a 46-10 lead before a storm literally turned out the lights on the game. The following night, the Fighting Irish exacted their revenge against George Junior Republic, employing a devastating full-court press that keyed a 101-40 blowout. LeBron was fantastic, posting 21 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and four steals.
LeBron James, 2001 Student Sports
Less than two weeks later SVSM registered another satisfying victory, defeating Oak Hill 65-45. With Dick Vitale and Bill Walton doing the game for ESPN2, LeBron enjoyed another big night, going for 31 points and 13 rebounds. A staggering 1.67 million households tuned into the contest.
SVSM won four more before LeBron’s birthday in December. Among those who wished a happy 18th to him were Allen Iverson and Jerome Bettis. But problems soon developed. To celebrate her son’s birthday, Gloria secured a bank loan and bought him a Hummer H2 (base price $50,000), complete with three televisions. The gift caused a huge controversy. SVSM and the Ohio High School Athletic Association considered suspending LeBron. The media, meanwhile, launched a national debate that questioned him, his mother and the wisdom of foregoing college for the riches of the NBA.
LeBron and the Fighting Irish, however, kept right on chugging. SVSM traveled to Los Angeles to square off at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion against Mater Dei High School, in another ESPN2 broadcast. Billed as a matchup between LeBron and D.J. Strawberry, a forward headed for Maryland and the son of former big-league slugger Darryl Strawberry. In an entertaining game, the Fighting Irish won 64-58. Though he missed all nine of his 3-point attempts, LeBron still managed to score 24.
A month later LeBron found himself in hot water again, this time for accepting two retro NBA jerseys worth $845 from a sports store. The OHSAA acted with little hesitation and rescinded his eligibility. But LeBron fired back, hiring lawyer Fred Nance to get the ban lifted. Nance requested an injunction in the Summit County Common Pleas Court, and judge James R. Williams ultimately reinstated LeBron. The ruling came just in time for him to play in the Prime Time Shoot Out in Trenton. He showed no ill-affects from the legal tussle, scoring 52 points in a 78-52 shellacking of West Chester of Los Angeles.
The entire episode grabbed national headlines. People who had never heard of LeBron—indeed, people who had no interest in high school hoops—suddenly were familiar with the details of his life. It was at this moment that the 18-year-old transcended his sport and passed into the realm of popular culture.
From there LeBron tried to concentrate on basketball, and did a pretty good job of it. SVSM entered the state playoffs with just one loss, then returned to the Division II final against Kettering Alter. In front of a tournament-record 18,454 fans at Ohio State's Value City Arena, the Irish held a slight lead heading into the fourth quarter. That's when LeBron took over—he scored his team's first nine points of the final stanza to spark SVSM to a 40-36 victory. Pushing their record to 24-1, the Irish reclaimed the state title and tightened their grasp on the mythical national high school hoops championship awarded by USA Today.
Next on LeBron's agenda were the 26th annual McDonald's All-American High School Boys Basketball Game at Gund Arena and the EA Sports Roundball Classic in Chicago. The McDonald's game has produced 15 top overall picks in the NBA draft, which sets up another likely headline-making moment for LeBron. As the league’s surefire number-one pick, he along with the rest of the world will learn the location of the next stop on his basketball odyssey at the draft lottery.
Among the teams hoping for a lucky bounce of the ping-pong ball were Cleveland, Denver, Memphis and Toronto. Some even suggested that the Cavs dealt Andre Miller knowing the trade would weaken their club and thus improve their chances of landing the ultimate hometown hero in the draft. If that was indeed the team’s strategy, it worked. Cleveland got the top pick and grabbed LeBron. Though his contract with the Cavs was slotted in by the league’s rookie salary structure, he had no worries about money. In fact, estimates put his endorsement deals (with the likes of Nike, Coca-Cola and Upper Deck) at $100 million.
The lights glared, the expectations rose and the pressure intensified in LeBron’s first season with the Cavs. Of course, he had been performing under similar conditions most of his life. But he was also cashing a paycheck every couple of weeks and taking mega-dollar endorsement fees to the bank for the first time. Critics were concerned that this windfall might rob LeBron of perspective and hinder his ascent to the stratosphere of pro hoops.
But the teenager remained focused. A team player from the opening of training camp, he averaged 21 points, six assists and more than five rebounds per game. In turn, he helped lift Cleveland from cellar-dweller to playoff contender. The Cavs ended the season at 35-47, a marked improvement over the previous year’s performance.
Cleveland also got solid contributions from Carlos Boozer and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, both of whom provided muscle in the paint. The Cavs juggled the roster midway through the campaign, sending Ricky Davis and Chris Mihm to Boston for Eric Williams and Tony Battie. Jeff McInnis was another in-season pick-up who made an impact. Cleveland battled the Celtics tooth-and-nail for the final playoff spot in the East, but was egded out by a single game.
LeBron was the number one reason for the team's turnaround. After getting his feet wet early in November, he strung together 11 games with double-digit scoring, and finished the month with a 33-point, 16-rebound effort against the Memphis Grizzlies. LeBron continued his fine play through December and January, then suited up in the Rookie Challenge Game during the All-Star Weekend. He led the newcomers with 33 points, but the sophs won the contest behind Amare Stoudemire.
Heading down the stretch in '04—when many rookies hit the proverbial wall—LeBron played perhaps his best ball of the year. In late March against the New Jersey Nets, he exploded for 41 points and 13 assists in a 107-104 victory. He posted two more double-doubles in April.
Those types of performances stayed in voters' minds when it came time for Rookie of the Year balloting. Though Carmelo Anthony also had a big season, LeBron beat out his buddy and walked away with the hardware. Along the way, he also accepted an invitation to represent the U.S. on the 2004 Olympic men’s basketball team.
At 19, LeBron was the youngest member of the squad in Greece. Again, he displayed the type of dignity and class that veterans twice his age are known for. While Melo was complaining about his lack of playing time, he kept quiet and did whatever coach Larry Brown asked of him. This was saying a lot on the dysfunctional American squad. In a frustrating couple of weeks in Athens, the Dream Teamers could do no better than the bronze. Angry fans back home complained that the U.S. was nothing more than a collection of spoiled superstars who didn't understand the team concept.
The sailing wasn't much smoother for LeBron during the 2004-05 season. Before the campaign started, the Cavs got awful news when Boozer jumped ship and headed for the big money offered by the Utah Jazz. Cleveland tried to make up for the loss with several additions, including Drew Gooden, Tractor Traylor, Eric Snow and Lucious Harris, but the burden most nights fell on LeBron.
He responded with a wonderful season, improving in every significant statistical category. No one in the NBA logged more minutes, and he ranked third in the league in scoring (27.2 ppg) and steals (2.2 a game), and sixth in passing (7.2 apg). There were some games when LeBron was simply too much for opponents to handle. He became the youngest player to net 50 points in a game, and the youngest to notch a triple-double.
By increasing his range and accuracy from the outside, teams had to respect LeBron’s perimeter game, which opened more opportunities for him and his teammates. LeBron posted four double-doubles on the season, and pumped in 40 or more points on five occasions, including a 56-point outburst against the Toronto Raptors.
But he and Silas saw eye-to-eye less and less frequently as the year progressed. Cleveland was fighting for the last playoff spot in the East, and player and coach differed on how the Cavs would get there. As usually happens in pro sports, the star won out. Silas was canned, as the team finished 42-40 and out of the post-season. LeBron didn't escape unscathed. Some in the media called him out for submarining his coach.
LeBron shook off the criticism and saw his game continue to grow in the 2005-06 season. Working with a supporting cast that included newcomers Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones, he averaged 31.4 points a game—good for third in the NBA—becoming the youngest ever to top the 30-point plateau. LeBron also led the Cavs with 521 assists and 123 steals. At the '06 All-Star Game, he scored 29 points and took home MVP honors as the East gained a 122-120 victory.
Under new coach Mike Brown, Cleveland won 50 games and finished second in the NBA Central. The team played consistently all year, putting together winning streaks of six, seven, eight and nine games. Veterans Snow and Ilgauskus were solid contributors, but it was LeBron who made the difference in a season that looked like it might be headed down the tubes after newly acquired scorer Larry Hughes missed more than half year to a broken finger. For his efforts, LeBron was honored as the runner-up to Steve Nash in the NBA MVP voting.
In the playoffs, the Cavaliers locked horns in an epic battle with Gilbert Arenas and the Washington Wizards. In his first postseason game, LeBron notched a triple-double, and then missed by one rebound in Game 2 of repeating this feat. In Game 3, he hit for 41 points.
After four games, the series was tied at 2-2. The Cavs showed their mettle by finishing off the Wizards with a pair of one-point overtime wins. LeBron averaged 35.7 points—the most ever for a non-center in his first postseason series.
Cleveland’s magical run continued in the next round against Detroit. After dropping the first two games to the Pistons in the Palace, the Cavs tightened their D and squeezed out three straight victories to throw the defending conference champs back on their heels. But Cleveland blew a chance to finish the Pistons off at home, and ended up losing the series in seven games.
The Pistons really got it right in the finale, shutting down the Cleveland offense and holding them to a record-low (for a Game 7) 61 points. Early in the contest, LeBron was smoking, hitting 10 of 15 field goals in the first half. But the Pistons held him to one bucket in final 24 minutes to win 79-61. After the game, even LeBron had to admit that it was a masterful defensive performance.
With Hughes healthy and the core of the team returning for 2006-07, the Cavs have set their sights on a conference championship and trip to the NBA Finals. With the defending champion Miami Heat older and injured, the East looks wide open.
Overall, LeBron’s numbers were down slightly coming out of the All-Star break, but his impact on games was undiminished. The Cavs, meanwhile, were among the top teams in the conference, including a .750 winning percentage at home.
With a playoff berth virtually assured by the midway point, LeBron has the luxury of finishing off his fourth season by learning to mesh with his teammates, and they with him. As the Cavs learned in the 2006 post-season, when defenses overload on LeBron, a winning team finds a way to make them pay. Win or lose, however, the Cavs and sports fans worldwide know this: LeBron’s story will remain among the most-followed in the history of sports.
LEBRON THE PLAYER
LeBron’s quickness and strength are off the charts, his court vision and ballhandling skills are highly developed, and his rebounding and defense are improving with each season. LeBron’s passing ability is nothing short of extraordinary. He not only sees the whole court, but anticipates the movement of teammates and defenders. LeBron knows he will be double-teamed whenever he egts the ball, so the first thing he does is look to see where the help is coming from—then thinking one or even two passes ahead before the second man arrives. Not surprisingly, he is considered to be one of the NBA's best passers.
LeBron’s willingness to share the ball and get others involved is one of the things coaches love about him. His unselfishness underscores his innate understanding of basketball and how fully he embraces the fundamentals. Of course, when it is time to take charge and make a momentum-changing statement—or score a key bucket—he is almost impossible to stop.
The weakest part of LeBron’s game is his outside jumper. His range is excellent, but he must become more consistent on the perimeter.
LeBron’s leadership ability is no longer a question. Despite being one of the youngest players in the NBA, he does and says the right thing, and shares credit and responsibility with his teammates. They know the big trophy is out of their reach without him, but more important, LeBron knows he can’t win it all without his teammates.