LeBron James, blessed with unparalleled basketball skills, exceptional longevity and unafraid to use the platform of NBA superstardom, has forged a unique destiny in his quest to be the best player of all time.
For twenty years, more than half his life, the player dubbed The Chosen One by Sports Illustrated when he was still in high school has embraced excellence.
Now the top scorer in NBA history after passing the mark Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had held since April 5, 1984 – more than eight months before James was born – James continues to write his legend.
It’s a tale of monumental achievements often built on harsh failures, that has placed him among sport’s towering figures.
The scoring record is the latest milestone on a career that has yielded four NBA championships, four NBA finals Most Valuable Player awards, four NBA season MVP awards, two Olympic gold medals and 19 NBA All-Star selections.
Yet James’ evolution into NBA royalty came after a precarious early life. His mother, Gloria, 16 when he was born, struggled as a single mother.
“I came from the projects, I saw the drugs, the weapons, the murders,” James has said of his early childhood in Akron, Ohio, where he and Gloria once moved seven times in the same year.
Things changed when youth football coach Frank Walker spotted him. Impressed by James’s physical abilities, Walker pointed him toward basketball, and persuaded Gloria to allow him to move in with the Walker family.
By 12, James had caught the attention of high school recruiters impressed by his power and basketball IQ.
He opted for St. Vincent-St. Mary, a predominantly white school, over John Buchtel High School, where a cheerleader, Savannah Brinson, his future wife and mother of their three children, was studying.
The choice kept James with his friends, including Maverick Carter, who today remains his partner in projects ranging from cinema to sports club ownership and which, added to James’s salary and sponsorship contracts have made him the NBA’s first active billionaire.
At 18, James became the youngest top pick in draft history when his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers took him number one in 2003.
He inked an unprecedented $90 million endorsement deal with Nike before he played his first professional game, and led the Cavaliers in scoring, steals and minutes played in his first season.
But he lost his first two Finals appearances – with the Cavs in 2007 and with Miami in 2011 – after deciding the previous year to “take my talents to South Beach” in a highly scrutinized free agent move announced, to some derision, in an ESPN special.
In Miami, however, James would eventually find himself surrounded by a competitive team. He won his first NBA title in 2012 and added a second in 2013 – when he garnered a fourth MVP award to go with those he won in 2009, 2010 and 2012.
His fourth straight Finals appearance ended in a heavy defeat against the San Antonio Spurs and James, vilified by Cavs fans after his departure, decided to return to Cleveland to address unfinished business.
Four more Finals appearances followed, all against Golden State. James and the Cavs lost three, the exception the Cavs’ epic and unprecedented return from 3-1 down in the best-of-seven series to win the 2016 title.
James became the first player in NBA history to lead all players in a playoff series in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks as he delivered Cleveland’s first NBA title and the city’s first sports championship since the Browns won the 1964 NFL crown.
James’s soaring block of an Andre Iguodala shot in game seven remains an iconic image of his career.
“I thought I was the best player people had ever seen,” James would later confide, rekindling the debate over whether he or Michael Jordan deserved that status.
James, whose social media presence includes 143 million followers on Instagram, has been vocal in denouncing racial injustice and supporting Black Lives Matter.
He was an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, unfazed by a right wing media critic’s admonition to “shut up and dribble.”
The I Promise school founded by James in Akron is a groundbreaking public school aimed at serving not only at-risk students but also their entire families.
James’ efforts in turning out Black voters in 2020 was a “game-changer” that boosted President Joe Biden’s successful election campaign.
That year, James won his fourth NBA championship with the Lakers, showing that his move to Los Angeles wasn’t an early retirement – even if Hollywood offered him the lead role in “Space Jam 2”, 25 years after Jordan brought the original to life.
While Jordan always looms in the past, with his six titles in six Finals appearances to James’s four in 10, James remains fixed on the future and a new dream – to play alongside his son, Bronny, in the NBA.
“As long as I am on a floor, I’ll try to be the best player of all time,” James said. “And also, the best man and the best father. All on the same path.”
(Text from AFP)