Now, nearly two decades later, it’s easy to say in hindsight 20-20: not only was the hype, it was deserved.
The buzz, among fans and the media, scouts and team executives, began years before LeBron James made his NBA debut on October 29, 2003, jumping straight to La Liga from St. Mary-St. Vincent High School in Akron, Ohio.
The rumor turned into a roar when the Cavaliers selected him No. 1 overall.
In fact, The Sporting News posed the question on its May 26, 2003 cover: Is LeBron James overrated? (Spoiler alert: No, he wasn’t, but there were legitimate questions about whether he was being over-marketed as a teenager.)
Now in its 75th season, the NBA celebrates the players on its NBA75 roster from now until the end of the season, and LeBron James is the honoree on December 21.
So much has been written about LeBron throughout his career that it seems like a good time to go back for some of the earliest information leaks, no wonder the first at TSN appointed him to a second-rate All-America team. high school year. in 2001.
Here are seven selected moments, out of dozens from spring 2001 to fall 2003, when LeBron’s name appeared on the pages of The Sporting News:
1. When TSN first mentioned your name
Issue date: March 26, 2001
TSN wrote: All Americans from TSN High School. Sophomore LeBron James: At just 16 years old, James presented the nation with 33 points against powerhouse Oak Hill in January. I am still working on another Ohio State Division III title with St. Vincent-St of Akron. Mary High last week, the 6-6, 205-pound guard averaging 25.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7 assists.
2. When an All-Star Game for juniors overshadowed seniors
Issue date: July 23, 2001
TSN wrote: Junior LeBron James was the best player at the adidas ABCD Camp in Teaneck, NJ, and his name dominated the coldest conversations. His showdown with senior forward Lenny Cooke will be long remembered. James hit a 3-pointer when the bell rang to give his team the victory.
Camp ABCD was talented and deep, despite the general lack of depth from the senior class. The point guard position was especially loaded, and the freshmen invited to camp were excellent. In fact, the junior class All-Star Game at the end of camp was a far greater success than the senior game. Second-year guard Sebastian Telfair from New York and James from Akron, Ohio were the main attractions, and they didn’t disappoint.
3. When TSN’s Caught on the Fly heard whispers
Issue date: August 13, 2001
TSN wrote: Fly is never sure what to make of rim fans who still eat sloppy joes on styrofoam trays during the fifth period, but the Spies say the nation’s best prep player is Akron’s LeBron James, who will be just one junior this year. After watching James drop 24 on Lenny Cooke in a summer game, a veteran scout whispered, “That’s the best high school player I’ve ever seen.”
4. When you worked out with MJ … in 2001
Issue date: June 10, 2002
TSN wrote: The Cavaliers’ penalty, a $ 150,000 fine and two-game suspension for coach John Lucas, for allowing high school phenom LeBron James to participate in a workout seems steep, especially considering it’s no secret that James He has had contact with other NBA teams. Under NBA rules, Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik told reporters: “Teams may not have contact with any player who is not eligible for the draft.” Last summer, James was part of Wizards SF Michael Jordan’s comeback workouts in Chicago.
5. When, in coverage of the 2002 NBA Draft, TSN looked back at 2003
Issue date: July 1, 2002
TSN wrote: Annoyed because you’re pretty sure your hellish hometown team has ruined you again with another terrible lottery pick? Well fear not – the 2003 NBA Draft is just a year away, and we’re already seeing how the lottery could change.
1. LeBron James, G / F, 6-7 St. Vincent-St. Mary (Akron, Ohio) HS Write in ink as the first choice. It would have been number one this year.
6. When TSN declared: ‘Let the LeBron-a-thon begin’
Issue date: December 23, 2002
TSN’s Sean Deveney wrote: It didn’t take a high school midseason game, albeit one against the nation’s highest-ranked team, played in front of more than 11,000 fans, a national television audience, and around 50 members of the media, to secure the spot. LeBron James’ status as the No. 1 insurance in the NBA draft next June. Who scored 31 points on 12 of 25 shots, grabbed 13 rebounds, dished out six assists and led St. Vincent-St. Mary of Akron, Ohio, to a 20-point victory over Oak Hill (Va.) Academy was only added to the LeBron Legend. Long before that public display, the scum of the league was looking forward to the LeBron-a-thon lottery next spring, when bouncing Ping-Ping Pong balls will determine who gets James and who gets everyone else.
While the crowd that showed up to see James was impressive, what was most telling was who wasn’t there: scouts from most NBA teams. As one Eastern Conference staff member puts it: “What remains to be seen? It is written in ink. It is carved in stone. He is number 1. “
We know that he is an excellent passer, capable of playing the point from an attack point. We know he has instincts, jumping ability, size, and the backing of Michael Jordan. But is James that good? Are there no negatives to accompany the 6-8, 240-pound teenager who has already been crowned King James?
“The only downsides are the uncertainties,” says a Western Conference scout. “Can he defend at the NBA level? Nobody knows. Can he take getting hit? There will be a lot of guys looking to put him on the court when he enters the league.
“And what about the pressure and scrutiny? He really does seem like a good kid off the court. He speaks well and behaves well. Those are huge perks because this is a kid who has been courted by agents and shoe companies for four years. years”. . That can twist a person’s mind. “
In the game against Oak Hill, James struggled a bit with his jump shot, but even that didn’t faze scouts.
“You’re looking for form, and he has good shooting form,” says an Eastern Conference scout. “I saw Michael Finley go 1 of 15 when he was in Wisconsin, but I gave him high marks in shooting. James is a good shooter, but everything else he does is great.”
James seems to fit the mold of two other athletic forwards, preparing for professionals who have risen to NBA stardom: Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady. But even that mold might not be big enough for him.
“He’s completely better than those guys when they were in high school,” says the Eastern Conference staff man. “But having said that, Kobe and McGrady have worked very, very hard to harness his ability and maximize it. If he puts in that kind of work, then, yeah, he might be better than them. It’s hard to say who will be the ones who are willing to to do that “.
7. When Hall of Famer Rick Barry wrote: ‘I believe in the hype’
Issue date: June 29, 2003
Rick Barry wrote: LeBron James is expected to lead the basement Cavaliers to the playoffs, win Rookie of the Year honors and exude an off-court personality that belies his years. Is it reasonable to believe that the 18-year-old will meet those expectations?
If anyone can do it, James can. James, the most hyped high school player of all time, possesses a level of physical maturity that neither Kobe Bryant nor Kevin Garnett had when he was drafted. Certainly his game has room for improvement, who’s not? – but overall, James is fundamentally solid and exceptionally athletic.
What I like most about James is his ability to see the ground. I have said many times that you can teach a player to pass, but you cannot teach him to see. James has cunning at court and instincts that cannot be taught. Although he was obviously the focal point of his high school team, he was also able to improve the players around him.
Even more impressive than that was his willingness to work with his teammates. James is a selfless gamer who understands how the game should be played. You will have no trouble adjusting to your new teammates and as a young rookie you will handle the good natured hazing with ease.
So far, James has been saying all the right things. He has been confident but humble, outspoken but cautious. His mental maturity will serve him well, as all his movements, both on and off the court, are analyzed and reported by the media.
I don’t know if the Cavs can make the playoffs or if James will be the Rookie of the Year. What I do know is that in the upcoming NBA season, fans will be treated to a dazzling display of skills from a mature billionaire for his age.
Unfortunately, while LeBron is beginning his exciting career journey, others like me must find satisfaction in more mundane pursuits. I’ll be replacing James Brown all week on Sporting News Radio. I just hope I can live up to the high expectations.
Senior Editorial Consultant Bob Hille has worked for or with The Sporting News for more than 25 years.