LeBron James: From Rookie To NBA Legend

Cavaliers at Wizards 11/21/14

The kid from Akron, Ohio, USA, didn’t just change the perception of what an athlete should be. He became the greatest player in basketball history.

By Mark Pais

Say basketball and the first thought we have is Michael Jordan; the aura of the man, the shoes, the team, and the aesthetic. But what if we spoke of an athlete who had started with the weight of the world on his shoulders, the expectation to become the best player in the world? Not only did this player live up to expectations; he completely surpassed them. This, of course, is LeBron James.

Early Spark

LeBron James

Born on December 30, 1984, to Gloria James and Anthony McClelland, LeBron was a single child. Gloria had him at the age of 16. Anthony was an ex-convict with countless criminal records and, as such, was not interested and involved in their life. Gloria was left with no other choice but to raise James on her own.

As a kid, LeBron James was a prodigy, joining St Vincent – St Mary High School. He was a talent that had never been seen before; he was quicker, stronger, bigger, and most importantly, smarter than anyone had ever seen. All of these traits have endured to this day

High school basketball games would be booked with tickets almost reaching the prices of the NBA, all to watch that young James dribble a basketball. During his senior year, he was named Ohio Mr Basketball and was selected for the ‘USA Today’ All-USA First Team for two consecutive years. He was also the first junior to be named Gatorade National Player of the Year in boys’ basketball.

LeBron James

Fun fact: Due to his physical acumen, LeBron could have easily joined the NFL and scouts claim that he would have been a star there too. Media houses started covering the boy and the hype was built. The kid from Akron seemed to have the world at his feet. Questions were asked: Could he be the player who changed the game? A player with an influence possibly even larger than the great Michael Jordan? He answered with a tattoo – “Chosen 1”.

Cleveland Cavaliers – The First Stint

LeBron James decided to skip college and headed straight for the NBA. He was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers as the first-round pick. “It saved basketball in Cleveland. If you look at the value of the team and how much it jumped up in just the first two years he was on the team, before Dan Gilbert bought it in 2005, it was clear LeBron was a major factor behind the city’s resurgence for its love of basketball,” said Mary Schmitt Boyer.

There was a lot of apprehension about young James. Some of his new teammates were not convinced about the young prodigy joining them. But LeBron changed their minds. As just a rookie in his very first season, he averaged 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists. To top it off, he also won Rookie of the Year, the youngest ever to achieve it in the history of the NBA.

LeBron James
Heat at Wizards 1/15/14

Cleveland, however, wasn’t able to achieve much as a team. Before James joined the team, they averaged about 15 to 20 wins per season, jumping to 30-40 wins and even entry into the playoffs. However, the competition in the East was tough, with the Boston Celtics hosting a team of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo (players who are all in the NBA’s Top 75 players of all time list); hence, the hump was just a little too big to get through.

The Decision – Miami Heat

Once LeBron James was a free agent, he announced that he would be making a decision, a decision that would change the landscape of the NBA. The decision was televised, with fans of every team praying that LeBron would join them, and Cleveland fans praying that he would stay. And as America silently watched in anticipation, LeBron revealed, “I will be taking my talents to the South Beach (Miami Heat).” Miami fans were jubilant, the league’s biggest player had chosen them, whereas Cleveland fans felt betrayed. So betrayed that jerseys were burnt and insults flung. Truly, a dramatic moment in sporting history.

LeBron joined Dwayne Wade (one of the world’s best) and Chris Bosh (a skillful big man in his own right) to form a Big 3. Everyone in the league was on notice, there was a new sheriff in town. But here’s a part that hurts LeBron James’ legacy even today. When asked how much he and the Miami Heat could accomplish regarding championships, LeBron famously said, “Not one, not two, not three, not four.” To the Miami Heat and LeBron, nothing could stop them. It was a surprise when underdogs Dallas Mavericks beat the Heat convincingly, which could possibly be the only real blemish in his resume.

LeBron James

There was a lot of debate about what went wrong when Dwyane Wade realised that he couldn’t be the main star of the team, but needed to be a support to LeBron James, and handed over the keys to him. During the 2011–2012 season, James and his team had a breakthrough.

The NBA star finally earned his first title when the Heat defeated Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA finals, scoring 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists, winning the MVP finals. At 28, King James made NBA history when he became the youngest player to score 20,000 points, after the late Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, who achieved this at 29. He became the 38th player in the history of the NBA to achieve this feat.

LeBron James
President Barack Obama talks with 2013 NBA Champion Miami Heat players Dwyane Wade, left, and LeBron James in the Blue Room prior to a ceremony honoring the team on winning their second straight Championship title, in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 14, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

The Heat saw yet another success during the 2012–2013 season, winning its second NBA championship consecutively. Miami helped LeBron learn what it means to be a champion: From a young stud, he evolved into a calm and calculated star. But something was troubling LeBron – the fact that he wasn’t able to bring a chip to the Cavaliers. So, when his contract with the Miami Heat was over, LeBron made the decision: He would go back to where it all began.

Cleveland, This Is For You

LeBron came to the Cleveland Cavaliers with a single goal: To bring a championship to a city that hadn’t received one in 52 years. He teamed up with the talented young star Kyrie Irving and the classy Kevin Love to form another Big 3 in Cleveland. And the Cavaliers began with a boost.

LeBron, in his first season, reached the finals of the NBA, making him the first player in about 50 years to reach the championship in five seasons consecutively. However, they matched up against a dynasty – the Golden State Warriors, with players like Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andrew Bogut and more – regarded today as the best squad to ever be formed in NBA history. Adding to the situation, both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were injured, and it was easy for the Warriors to claim the championship

But LeBron had a fire ignited under him, in his second season. He reached the finals again, this time against the Warriors team that had 73 wins out of 82 games (the most ever in an NBA season). The Cavs played hard but were down 3-1 to the Warriors. No team ever came back from a 3-1 record; the media questioned LeBron James, critics slammed them, and the Golden State Warriors were ready to celebrate. But, by an effort never seen before, LeBron James was able to push the Cavs to a championship. In a parade he expressed loudly – “Cleveland, this is for you!” He, of course, won the MVP finals for his performance.

Showtime Lakers

Back to free agency, LeBron joined the famous and most revered Los Angeles Lakers. LeBron was able to win a ring with the Lakers during the pandemic, at the age of 39, and is still actively seeking out his 5th championship ring.

Phenomenal Philanthropy

Despite his on-court success, LeBron’s real success is his philanthropy. He has created a school known as “I Promise” in Akron, Ohio, where he was born and raised.

His family foundation invested $20 million in the public elementary school and gives a million each year to pay for teachers’ salaries and help keep class sizes manageable.

LeBron James

LeBron also donated $2.5 million to the Boys and Girls Club of America. Even his special “The Decision” was televised and all proceeds were donated to charity.

LeBron James’ foundation is also a contributor to the ONExONE and the Children’s Defence Fund, both of whom provide food, water, and care to children in America and abroad.

Long Live The King

LeBron James, a kid from Akron, now acknowledged as a King, is truly remarkable not only for his on-court achievements, but also for what he has been able to do off it. He is a firm speaker for Black rights, criticising governments and donating to parties to support underprivileged black children. He married his childhood sweetheart Savannah, has three children, and shares an extremely fun-loving and deep bond with them. No drugs, no controversies, no cheating, just a man who achieved his goal of becoming the best player in basketball history.

Major Accolades

• NBA Championships: LeBron has won four NBA championships with the Miami Heat (2012, 2013) and the Los Angeles Lakers (2020).

• NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) Awards: LeBron has received four MVP awards during his career.

• NBA Finals MVP Awards: He has also been named NBA Finals MVP four times.

• All-Star Selections: He has been selected to play in 20 NBA AllStar Games.

• Scoring Records: He holds the NBA record for most points scored in the regular season and playoffs, a record that will never be broken statistically.

• Assists and Playmaking: LeBron ranks fourth in career assists.

Related articles

Untitled design_20240713_151020_0000
Following are the three key insights into Manish Malhotra’s success.