A Lebron I Knew…

I have never seen an athlete take such a public image hit as Lebron
James did this past summer. At least one who lost his reputation
without getting arrested, accused of breaking the law, or acting
unscrupulously in the public eye (see Tiger Woods, Roger Clemens,
Barry Bonds, Michael Vick, Brett Favre, Lenny Dykstra,
etc). James’ identity as villain from hero certainly is unprecedented
and certainly was his own doing.

Leaving his beloved hometown
Cavaliers in what was perceived to be such a hurtful, cowardly, and
heartless way was made that much worse by the actual decision itself
to leave Cleveland for the Miami Heat. That move  was ridiculed by
those who also thought he should never have partnered with other
superstars, with the idea that he should be able to lead others to a
title on his own since he’s considered one of the two best players on
the planet. The fact that Lebron James didn’t admit he should have
handled the situation differently until months later definitely was a
shocker for someone who had such a magical tough with the media and
fans before “The decision.” It certainly was a shocker for me.
I was in the know the first time James came under the mircoscope.  And
I have only the most positive view of a young James which makes last
year’s summer antics that much more disappointing.
I had the good fortune of knowing and hosting Lebron James and his
high school teammates from St. Vincent-St Mary (OH) four times in the
2002-2003, as part of our Scholastic Play-by-Play Classics prep
basketball showcase series. Twice that season, he got himself in hot
water. Once, for accepting a jersey from a local sporting good store
that was perceived at the time by the Ohio State High School
Association as an infraction of receiving an improper benefit.
Earlier, he had been admonished but never penalized for having his mom
buy him a Hummer, though, she was living on poverty level.
James missed one game to suspension while investigations were going on
in both situations but was declared by the courts, soonafter , to be
eligible and won his third Ohio high school Division II title in 2003.
He then vaulted to stardom, winning a NBA rookie of the year award at
age 19 and making the NBA All-Star team in his first 7 seasons.
So while the world is having fun bashing Lebron this year, I can only
think about 2003 when an impressionable but mature, fun, intelligent,
and confident Lebron James did so many impressive things I lost count.
Yes, I am sticking up for Lebron, at least his past, which makes me
sadder than most for what I think were very poor decisions this past
summer.
First, Lebron never complained to the OHSAA about his treatment as a
high school senior. He said he would accept any consequences though he
insisted he did nothing wrong. He was right! And a class act at the
time.
I was more impressed in his first game following the investigation
when he dumped 52 points against West Chester (LA). What a
performance. Especially after all the national media that was on him
at the time at such a young age. After the game I was in the media
room, when a reporter antagonized the 18-year old, in my opinion, when
he asked, “Why do you hate the media? The media made you famous?”
Lebron James replied, “I don’t hate the media. And the media didn’t
make Lebron James famous. Lebron James made Lebron James famous.” It
was one of the best lines I ever heard. I swear there were dozens of
reporters who wanted to give him a standing ovation. The next game was
one I hosted in Dayton, OH six days later. Dayton officials tried to
cancel the game because of inclement weather. But despite 16 inches of
snow on the ground, I won the argument to keep the game going with
arena officials because of the crowd of 3,000 plus that was outside
the UD Arena in the morning and may have rioted if the game was
cancelled. Lebron played a pedestrian game for him. He had 22 points
and 13 rebounds. When we announced him as MVP, he grabbed the
microphone, and said, “Excuse me. I don’t deserve this. There is
someone who played better than me. This award belongs to [teammate]
Corey Jones.” He was right. Jones’ 20 points, including 4
first-quarter threes were the key to the romp over Kettering Alter.
It was such an impressive and selfless act.
The best Lebron moment however occurred in an event at a soldout
Palestra in Philadelphia on December 20, 2002. With the Irish creaming
a local Philly team, Strawberry Mansion 65-24, James took matters into
his own hands. He literally called off eight players, four from
Mansion and four from St. Vincent-St. Mary, to watch him and Maureece
Rice play one-on-one. It was what people had come to see, and he knew
it. With the outcome long decided, James and Rice, who broke Wilt
Chamberlain’s all-time Philadelphia prep scoring record in his next
game, went toe to toe for nearly 3 minutes. It was something that no
one who was there will ever forget. Without that one-one-one game
within the game, who knew what would have happened? The crowd was
getting restless and very uspet about the flogging from the Ohio
school.

Plus, Lebron’s mom, Gloria, was taunting  Philadelphia fans
which started our call for security.Instead, Lebron added an
enternainment value that was beyong the price for admission. (Even if
I was the one who was charging people!)
Lebron saw it all and made what I beieve to be a selfless and
brilliant act. I can only wonder why such a smart kid could have made
such a poor decision as “The decision?” What happened to you, Lebron
James?

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