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LeBron James

LeBron Raymone James Sr. a.k.a LeBron James is widely touted as the greatest basketball player of all time. While his claim as the greatest NBA player ever is often contested, there’s no denying that LeBron is the most influential NBA player of the 21st century. The Los Angeles Lakers superstar has spent 20 seasons(currently in his 21st year) in the National Basketball Association since he was drafted first overall in 2003. King James, as he is popularly known among fans, entered the NBA as the ‘Chosen One’, the heir to the throne vacated by the Chicago Bulls legend, Michael Jordan. After securing four NBA Championships, four NBA Most Valuable Player awards, four Finals MVPs, and 19 All-Star nominations, it is safe to say that LeBron has exceeded the expectations bestowed on him from the start of his career. Last year, the veteran forward strengthened his case in the GOAT debate by breaking the NBA’s all-time scoring record, previously held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Early Life in Akron

Born in 1984, LeBron grew up in tough conditions. His mother, Gloria Marie James, struggled to make ends meet as a teenage single mom. She eventually decided to send her son to live with a local youth football coach to escape the rigors of a run-down environment. LeBron soon established himself as a basketball prodigy through his exploits for the Northeast Ohio Shooting Stars in the AAU circuit. His friends from the team, Sian Cotton, Dru Joyce III, and Willie McGee, together known as the ‘Fab Four’, later joined James on the St. Vincent-St. Mary High School basketball team. As a 6 ft. 2” freshman, LeBron led his team to an undefeated 27-0 run to win the Division III State Championship. The teenage sensation repeated the feat the next year as well, as awards and recognition started pouring in. LeBron made it to the cover of SLAM magazine and Sports Illustrated during his high school stint and was also selected USA Today’s All-USA First Team multiple times. By his senior year, LBJ had already become a national phenomenon, touring the country with the Fighting Irish to play top high school teams. Some of James’ games were even nationally televized, which included the contest against Carmelo Anthony’s Oak Hill Academy and the 2003 McDonald’s All-American Boys Game, which featured the top high school talents of the country. LeBron announced his arrival on the national basketball scene by winning the MVP award in the McDonald’s All-American game.

First Stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Nike Deal

LeBron’s rising superstardom as the Sports Illustrated ordained ‘Chosen One’ presented a gold mine of opportunities for sports apparel companies. Nike, Reebok, and Adidas soon found themselves in a race to sign the 18-year-old prodigy, who had yet to dribble the basketball on the NBA court. Nike eventually came out as the winner of the three-team competition despite offering $28 million less than Reebok. The multi-billion dollar brand’s marketing team reportedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to put together a presentation, that included billboards, recitations from a poet, videos, special lighting, and pitches for future products under LeBron’s name, among other things, that convinced the Akron Hammer to sign an $87 million deal with the brand and declare “I’m a Nike Guy.” In the iconic 2003 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted their hometown hero as the #1 overall pick. LeBron started strongly for the Cavs, putting up incredible numbers consistently as a rookie. He soon assumed leadership of the decrepit Cavs team and made them relevant in the league. The teenage prodigy’s remarkable stats and sheer dominance in games brought him notoriety across the league and earned him the Rookie of the Year award and multiple All-Star nods.  During the 2006-07 season, LeBron proved himself under the bright lights of the Eastern Conference Finals, dropping a clutch 48-point performance against the Detroit Pistons. Despite getting swept by the experienced San Antonio Spurs side in the NBA Finals, James received his flowers for making a deep playoff run with an underwhelming team by his side. The next few years would paint a similar picture, LeBron struggling to make something out of a mediocre Cleveland squad. The only highlight of the remainder of his stint with the Cavs would be his first two MVP awards, won in 2009 and 2010, a direct outcome of his elevated numbers as the sole floor general on the team.

‘The Decision’ to move to Miami

After a frustrating second-round exit in the 2010 playoffs, LeBron’s departure from Cleveland seemed almost inevitable. The King became an unrestricted free agent after his contract expired on the 1st of July that same year. Merely a week later, the Akron native pulled probably the most controversial move in his career, along with broadcasting powerhouse ESPN. Despite then Commissioner David Stern’s disapproval, LeBron announced live on national television that he would be taking his talents to South Beach to give himself a better chance of winning a Championship.  The dramatic declaration on a live broadcast would feel more of a betrayal than his actual decision to leave ‘The Land’. Cleveland fans burned his jersey in the aftermath of the incident after Cavs owner Dan Gilbert released a vicious open letter rebuking LeBron’s ‘betrayal’, which would prompt a hefty fine from the NBA. LeBron’s time in Miami would attract a boatload of controversies as well. The star forward would join 2006 NBA Champion Dwyane Wade and recently traded Raptors star Chris Bosh to form a ‘Superteam’ in Miami. The assembly of three players of such elite talent would trigger a heavy backlash against James and Co. for trying to monopolize the competition in the league. However, LeBron couldn’t have cared less. His concluding years in Cleveland were marred with constant criticism about his failure to win Championships like Michael Jordan did with the Bulls. LeBron was ready to put all such slander to bed and show the world that he can take his team over the hump. However, just when it seemed that LeBron’s coveted ring was just a matter of formality, the mighty Heat ended up fumbling the 2011 NBA Finals against the Dirk Nowitzki-led Dallas Mavericks, who were the underdogs coming into the contest. The devastating loss quadrupled the criticism that was usually reserved for LeBron for botching his opportunities at the ultimate stage, ushering in a dark phase in the superstar’s career. However, LeBron would eventually redeem himself and the whole Miami squad by winning back-to-back Championships in 2012 and 2013 against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs. The dark clouds on the King’s legacy had started to disperse eventually as he eyed his first three-peat in 2014, a feat that would once again put him in the same conversation as Jordan. However, the San Antonio Spurs would show their Championship pedigree by swooping in with a comeback series win in five games in the 2014 Finals. The disappointing loss would close LeBron’s Miami chapter as he would soon opt out of his contract to become a free agent.

The Return to Cleveland

In the summer of 2014, LeBron James announced his return to Cleveland in a heartfelt letter published in Sports Illustrated. “I want to give them [people of Cleveland] hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball,” “the kid from Northeast Ohio” declared in the ‘Uninterrupted’ message to his community. He also said, “I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now…I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010.” However, LeBron wouldn’t have to wait long for an opportunity to bring Cleveland its first NBA Championship. In fact, the Cavs would go to the NBA Finals the very next year. However, they couldn’t get over the hump against the Stephen Curry-led Golden State Warriors, who were on a mission to revolutionize NBA basketball with swift ball movement and elite shooting. The 2014-15 NBA Finals would see the inception of the greatest rivalry in modern NBA, the clash between LeBron’s generational talent and the small ball of Golden State. The 2016 NBA Finals would see a rematch of the previous year’s Finals. But the matchup would have a different outcome this time. With Kyrie Irving by his side, LeBron James would put up probably the greatest NBA Finals performance ever, averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 8.9 assists. Most importantly, he would win back the hearts of Cleveland fans by bringing home a well-deserved chip, kickstarting epic celebrations not just in Northeast Ohio but throughout the country. The Akron native’s 2015-16 campaign cemented his place in the GOAT conversation alongside Michael Jordan once and for all.

The Lakers stint and the 2020 “Bubble” Championship

The arrival of Kevin Durant in Golden State later that year would make the Warriors pretty much invincible for the next few years. After two disappointing consecutive Finals losses in 2017 and 2018, LeBron would finally decide to leave Cleveland once again and join the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2018. However, things wouldn’t go quite as planned in the very first year. The then three-time NBA Champion would miss the playoffs for the first time since 2005 after his groin injury hiatus would hurt the Lakers’ record substantially. However, like always, LeBron would come back stronger the next season. The NBA had been shifted to a quarantined enclosure in Orlando in 2020, called the ‘Bubble’, after the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic suspended all pro sports that year. The King made sure that his team stayed focused and fixated on the goal inside the Orlando bubble, which saw him win his fourth Championship against the Miami Heat.  After 2020, the Lakers roster went through a multitude of changes to facilitate another Championship campaign. However, with little success. The Lakers came the closest to a ring in the 2023 Western Conference Finals but were swept by the Denver Nuggets in the series despite featuring a ton of big names on the roster, including Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James himself. The embarrassing loss led to a lot of drama after LBJ hinted at his retirement after the conclusion of the series, which Nuggets coach Michael Malone supposedly saw as an attempt to take the limelight out of Denver’s victory. Malone’s argument would gain more traction after the four-time NBA champion emphatically declared that he’s not retiring at the ESPYs later down the road.

LeBron James’ Family

One of the main motivations for LeBron to perform at a high level at age 39, as he has himself admitted, is the desire to play with his son Bronny on the same team. Bron’s 19-year-old son made his collegiate debut in December of 2023 after recovering from heart surgery earlier in the summer. LeBron’s other son, Bryce James, has also been impressive in his basketball journey with Sierra Canyon High School in LA. The 16-year-old has announced his arrival on the national basketball scene with his strong showings at Nike EYBL and other competitions. LeBron married his high school sweetheart, Savannah James, and has been with her since then. The couple got married in 2013 and are the loving parents of three children. Apart from Bronny and Bryce, LeBron and Savannah have a 9-year-old daughter named Zhuri.

LeBron’s investments, endorsements and business deals

As the only active billionaire player in the NBA, LeBron James’ investment portfolio is dazzling, to say the least. The four-time NBA Champion has invested wisely since his early days in the NBA to rack up a fortune even before his retirement from the league. His friendship/partnership with Maverick Carter and his agent Rich Paul has optimized his business output.  LeBron invested in Beats by Dre in 2008 long before they were cool. He also helped popularize the company’s products by wearing Beats headphones in public. James got a $30 million payday for his stake when Apple bought the company in 2014. Blaze pizza has been another wise investment by the Lakers superstar, for which he even rejected an offer from McDonald’s. Apart from this, the 19-time All-Star is also involved with companies like Walmart, PepsiCo, Epic Games etc. LeBron is also a minority stakeholder in Fenway Sports Group, an investment group that owns the Boston Red Sox and the English soccer club Liverpool. One of King James’ most notable business moves came in 2020 when he decided to enter the content and entertainment industry. LeBron and Maverick Carter founded the Entertainment and Production company, SpringHill Company, which has even managed to secure investments from Hollywood giants Warner Bros. The latest projects under SpringHill include ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’, the YouTube talk show, ‘The Shop: Uninterrupted’(which intends to give a platform to athletes to speak their minds without media distortion), the Netflix movie ‘Hustle’ etc. NBA fans will always split hairs comparing LeBron James’ basketball achievements in the NBA to those of Michael Jordan and other superstars. However, there’s no denying that the Lakers superstar’s legacy transcends far beyond the basketball court. ‘The Chosen One’ has changed and inspired countless lives with his work both on and off the court, especially with his ‘I Promise’ initiative to help the youth in Akron’s underserved communities.