If we’re talking prolific basketball players in the history of the NBA, two names come to mind—Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Perhaps the most heated debate in the current basketball world is which of these two players is better. Unfortunately, we won’t ever get to see them compete against each other on the same court, but their legacies are undeniable. Let’s take a look at James’ iconic legacy.
Humble Beginnings In Akron
James came from humble beginnings. He was born on December 30, 1984, in Akron, Ohio. His mother, Gloria Marie James, had him at 16-years-old and raised him by herself. After bouncing around apartments for years, Gloria allowed her son to move in with the family of Frank Walker. Walker was a youth football coach in the area and was the first to introduce LeBron to basketball at just 9-years-old.
High School Phenom
LeBron’s early basketball path can be traced back to the Amateur Athletic Union. He, along with Sian Cotton, Dru Joyce III, and Willie McGee formed the “Fab Four” of the Northeast Ohio Shooting Stars. All four vowed to attend high school together and ended up at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, a predominately white Catholic school. Needless to say, their presence was a tad controversial.
James started his freshman year playing for the varsity team. He was averaging 21 points and 6 rebounds a game—as a freshman. By the time his sophomore year rolled around his stats and fame increased. The high school team would sometimes play out of the University of Akron’s arena to satisfy the ticket demand. Fans, alumni, college and NBA scouts would all come out to watch James play.
He was featured in SLAM Magazine, Sports Illustrated (the first high school basketball player to do so) and several other major publications. The buzz around James was growing and it was clear he was going to be a force in the NBA. After a disappointing loss in the Division II championship game his senior year, James attempted to change the NBA’s rule about eligible players being required to have a high school diploma. The petition failed and James had to graduate.
His senior year saw a bit of controversy as potential sponsorships and paid photo opportunities began to roll in. James almost lost eligibility after posing for some photos in exchange for two vintage jerseys, which was a violation of the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s rules. His ban was eventually dropped to a two-game suspension. At the end of the year, LeBron graduated high school and had a lot of hype surrounding his future.
It is worth noting that he also played football at St. Vincent-St. Mary as a wide receiver. He was even recruited by some DI schools like Notre Dame. This begs the question of whether or not James could be in the NFL today as opposed to the NBA. Many sports analysts believe so.
From High School To The NBA
Heading into the 2003 NBA Draft, all eyes were on LeBron James. His home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, had the first pick and everyone knew what they were going to do with it. James was drafted #1 overall. He was one of the last players to ever be allowed to enter the league straight out of high school.
James began his NBA career with a 25-point performance against the Sacramento Kings. He won the league’s Rookie of the Year award at the end of the season after averaging 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game. James was the first Cav to ever receive the award and just the third player to ever average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists as a rookie. Unfortunately, Cleveland did not make the Playoffs that year, but the team improved on their last season by 15 wins.
His second season in the league earned him an All-Star nod. Over the next couple of seasons, James’ numbers increased dramatically and he drew notice from all around the league. Despite his success, the Cavs still couldn’t make it to the Playoffs. After all, they were pretty much a one-man show and opposing teams were able to minimize James’ efforts just enough to keep them out of the postseason.
Then, in the 2005-2006 season, the Cleveland Cavaliers finally made the Playoffs—their first time since 1998. They were up against the Washington Wizards in the first series. James had a triple-double in his first ever postseason game. He also had the first game-winning shot of his career in Game 3 and then quickly followed it up with another in Game 5. The Cavs made it past the Wizards but lost to the Detroit Pistons in the second round. This was the first taste of postseason glory for LeBron and he refused to let it go.
The following season saw James’ numbers decline a little, leading to some criticism from sports analysts. However, he still led his team to another Playoff berth and all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons. James had a heroic Game 5 with 29 of the Cavs’ last 30 points, including the game-winning layup. The Cavs won Game 6 to clinch their first Eastern Conference Championship and make it to their first NBA Finals appearance. The faced the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals and were swept.
The next few seasons were tough for James. Not from a numbers standpoint, as he finally earned his first NBA MVP Award and put up strong stats, but more so based on emotions. The Cavs made it to the postseason the next three years but had disappointing losses to the Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic and Celtics again. The 2009-2010 season ended with James being booed off the court by his home fans after a poor home court performance. Speculation began to swirl about a possible departure from the Cavs.
LeBron Joins The Miami Heat In The Decision
In 2010, LeBron James became a free agent. He was courted by several teams, including the Cavs who wanted to keep him. James was clearly upset with the Cavs front office’s indecision when it came to getting new players. He was tired of doing everything himself.
James announced his free agent move in The Decision, a nationally televised event. He raised millions of dollars for charity with the event but also drew a lot of criticism for its unprofessionalism. James announced he would be joining Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat to form what would be known as “The Big 3.” The move was criticized by sports analysts, fans and players alike. Cleveland fans burned their jerseys and scorned their hometown hero.
In Miami, James formed a new dynasty. His arrival was met a massive reception from Miami fans. He promised them multiple championships. The first season (2010-2011), the Big 3 were considered villains of basketball. The Heat defeated the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals and advanced to the NBA Finals to face the Dallas Mavericks. They lost in 6 games and nearly everyone criticized the super-team and James’ efforts.
Miami went on to win back-to-back championships the next two season. James finally won the Championship he sought for so long. Their first championship came over the Oklahoma City Thunder and the second over the San Antonio Spurs. The following year, Miami met San Antonio again in the Finals, only this time the Spurs were dominant. They defeated the Heat in 5 games.
Going Back To Cleveland
At the end of the 2013-2014 season, James became an unrestricted free agent by opting out of his contract. Miami tried their best to keep him, but James accomplished what he came for and wanted to do so the same for his home team. He decided to go back to Cleveland and was well-received by fans and analysts. The new-look Cavs had Kyrie Irving, another promising athlete out of Cleveland, who would now be second-fiddle to LeBron. Kevin Love joined them to make another Big 3. They made it to the NBA Finals that year against the Golden State Warriors but lost.
The following year, the Cavs faced the Golden State Warriors again and were down 3-1 in the NBA Finals, an unprecedented deficit. Somehow James led his team to a Game 7 and the city’s first-ever NBA Championship. James helped end the city’s 52-year drought without a major sports title. They were the first team to come back against such a large deficit.
The Cavs lost the following year to the Warriors in the Finals. This time, Kyrie Irving departed the team, leaving LeBron practically by himself again. Cleveland has since gone through several teams and personnel changes in order to put together a winning formula. James hopes to win another title for Cleveland, especially with rumors swirling he may leave again.
King James’ Legacy
Off the court, LeBron James is a family man and social activist. He has multiple business ventures through endorsements and has even featured in movies and television. LeBron James is undoubtedly the face of the NBA and a role model for children seeking to one day reach his status. He has described his legacy as “bigger than basketball” and it is true. LeBron James will go down in history as one of, if not the best basketball players in NBA history. After his playing career is over, he will surely help out his community in other ways.
LeBron James Statistics
Born: December 30, 1984
Position: Small Forward/Power Forward
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
- 2 points
- 4 rebounds
- 2 assists
- 4 field goal percentage
- 4 3-point field goal percentage
- 9 free throw percentage
- 2x Olympic Gold Medal Winner (2008, 2012)
- 3x NBA Champion (2012, 2013, 2016)
- 3x NBA Finals MVP (2012, 2013, 2016)
- 4x NBA MVP (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013)
- 14x NBA All-Star (2005-2018)
- 3x NBA All-Star Game MVP (2006, 2008, 2018)
- 11x All-NBA First Team (2006, 2008-2017)
- 2x All-NBA Second Team (2005, 2007)
- 5x NBA All-Defensive First Team (2009-2013)
- NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2014)
- NBA Rookie Of The Year (2004)
- NBA Scoring Champion (2008)
- Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award (2017)
- 2x AP Athlete of the Year (2013, 2016)
- 2x Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year (2012)
- 2x Mr. Basketball USA (2002, 2003)
- Naismith Prep Player of the Year (2003)
- McDonald’s All-American Game MVP (2003)
- 3x Ohio Mr. Basketball (2001-2003)
2017-2018 Regular Season
- 5 points
- 6 rebounds
- 1 assists
- 2 field goal percentage
- 7 3-point field goal percentage
- 1 free throw percentage