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NBA 75 Series: #2 LeBron James

It’s been a long journey, but we are now in my top two players in basketball history! At #2 on my NBA 75 Greatest Players of All Time list, is arguably the most hyped up athlete in not just basketball history but sports history who exceeded all the expectations placed upon his broad shoulders. The best all-around player in league history who just recently became the all-time leading scorerin NBA history! He is the only player to ever lead three different franchises (Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, & Los Angeles Lakers) to a championship. He has faced more criticism and scrutiny than any other professional athlete has ever had to endure and has risen up from it: his name is LeBron Raymone James!

James was born in Akron, Ohio, on December 30, 1984, to his mother, Gloria, who was just 16 years of age when she had him as the solo parent due to James' father, Anthony McClelland, not being present in his life due to being a criminal. James' mother struggled in his childhood, moving from apartment to apartment. Gloria wanted to do what was best for James in allowing him to grow in a stable environment, so she allowed him to move in with Frank Walker. Walker was a local youth football coach who introduced James to basketball when he was nine.

James played on his organized basketball team in the fifth grade. He later played on the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) circuit for the Northeast Ohio Shooting Stars, helping them achieve local and national success alongside his lifelong friends Dru Joyce III, Sian Cotton, and Willie McGee, whom he would all play with in high school.

Entering his freshman year for the St. Vincent-St. Mary Fighting Irish, standing 6-foot-2, James was so good immediately that he was starting on the varsity team, putting up an average of 18 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 3.1 steals, and a block per game on 53% from the field as a freshman! To only praise his freshman season even more, he made the All-Ohio Division III first team while helping lead St. Vincent-St. Mary to an undefeated 27-0 record en route to the state title.

James would only elevate his game as a sophomore with averages of 25.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 3.7 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game. He shot 58% from the field and improved his three-point efficiency to his high school best of 39%. James was named USA Today first-team (the first sophomore to achieve such a feat), an All-Ohio first-team selection, the first of his three consecutive Ohio Mr.Basketball awards, and Plain Dealer Player of the Year.

James' celebrity was so big that they had to play some of his home high school games at the University of Akron’s 5.492 seated Rhode Arena because everyone flocked to see his otherworldly ability, from alumni to fans to even NBA scouts who were scouting him as just a sophomore in high school!

He helped the Fighting Irish repeat as state champions again, being named the state tournament MVP. James, not only was a standout basketball player but also was phenomenal at football as well by being named an All-Ohio first-team selection in football as well. He could’ve gone to the NFL if he desired to, but he chose to stick with basketball.

The legend of LeBron James was already growing in media circles, and it received an astronomical boom prior to his junior season when he was featured in Slam magazine by writer Ryan Jones lauding him as "the best high school basketball player in America right now." It didn’t stop there, as Sports Illustrated even dubbed him “The Chosen One” during his junior year of high school at just 16 years old.

Talk about putting extraordinary pressure on a kid. Standing 6-foot-7 his junior season, James averaged 29 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 3.3 steals per game, and 1.7 blocks per game. He received Ohio Mr.Basketball once again and was named to the USA's Today All-USA first team. James also became the first junior named Gatorade National Player of the Year.

The Fighting Irish finished with a 23-4 record but failed to come up with the championship crown this time. Around this time, LeBron tried to forgo his senior year of high school to make himself available for the 2002 NBA Draft. That ultimately was unsuccessful, and James also used marijuana during that time to help him cope with the stress of constant media pressure he was facing daily.

Now heading into his senior season for the Fighting Irish, many NBA teams, such as the Cavaliers, Heat, Denver Nuggets, and Toronto Raptors, were trying to tank for the most highly sought-after prospect in the history of the NBA. The media nationally televised many of his games, including a December 12, 2002 game against basketball No.1 ranked Oak Hill Academy in a packed Convocation Center that saw him record a near triple-double of 31 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists on 12-of-25 (48%) shooting from the field in a 65-45 victory.

It was an absolutely incredible display of dominance from such a transcendent player who had many players in the NBA, such as Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and Allen Iverson, even going to watch some of his high school games and speaking about the young kid from Ohio. He even had the iconic college basketball analyst come to call his games: he was that legit!

James averaged 30.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 2.9 steals, and 1.9 blocks per game, NBA MVP-level numbers he was putting up as just an 18-year-old high school senior. He shot an absurd 56% from the field and 38% from beyond the arc. James received USA Today All-USA First Team and was named Ohio Mr.Basketball for a record third straight year. The awards continued to pile on for James being named the Gatorade National Player of the Year for a second consecutive season.

He received a Hummer from his mother for his 18th birthday, which caused him to get suspended, along with receiving $845 from an urban clothing store in exchange for posing for pictures. James was accused of violating OHSAA (Ohio High School Athletic Association) rules for two games

He was in all the 2003 high school All-Star events, from the Jordan Brand Classic to the McDonald’s All-American game. He was in all the 2003 high school All-Star events from the Jordan Brand Classic to the McDonald’s All-American game. James was named the McDonald’s MVP with 27 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists, showing his tremendous playmaking ability and explosive athleticism.

James was even more magnificent in the Jordan Brand Classic by recording 34 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in a 107-102 victory.

After an astonishing high school career, probably the best in basketball history, rivaled only by Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, James made it known to the public that he was forgoing college, having received several DI offers for basketball and football but made his intentions known by declaring for 2003 NBA Draft.

The basketball gods seemed to bless James' hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003 with the #1 overall pick as the kid from Ohio who played his high school ball there and is now in the NBA. That ‘03 draft was top-heavy and one for the ages, featuring Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, whom James would become friends with (teammates later with Bosh & Wade) and all becoming franchise pillars for their respective franchises in the Nuggets, Raptors, and Heat.

The hype was insane for James's first-ever NBA game against the Sacramento Kings at Arco Arena, where he proved he was worthy of the hype after scoring the most points (25) in an NBA debut for a prep-to-pro player in NBA history. At the conclusion of the 2003-04 season, James would be named the NBA Rookie of the Year with averages of 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.6 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game. He became the first rookie since Jordan to average at least 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game.

The Cavaliers finished with a 35-47 record that season, failing to make the playoffs, but James showed the world that he was on his way to claiming the NBA throne; it was just a matter of time for “The Chosen One”.

Throughout his first stint with the Cavaliers from 2003-2010, James made the All-Star team every season except his rookie year and was a perennial All-NBA performer. He made his first playoff appearance in 2006 after an astounding season that saw him finish second in MVP voting behind Phoenix Suns legend Steve Nash with averages of 31.4 points, seven rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game.

In his playoff debut, he recorded a triple-double against Gilbert Arenas and the Washington Wizards while making his first career game-winning shot in Game 3 of that series. The Cavs advanced to the second round but were ousted by the Detroit Pistons led by Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace, and Rasheed Wallace, all guys who’ve been All-Stars multiple times with plenty of playoff experience after having won a championship in 2004 and made the finals once again in 2005 the year prior.

James would have his true coming out party of his career in most people’s eyes in the 2007 playoffs in the Eastern Conference Finals against those same rough, tough Pistons with a chance to the NBA Finals on the line. He didn’t disappoint in having what many believe was his “coming out party” when he wreaked havoc on the Pistons' defense in Game 5, scoring 48 points to go along with nine rebounds and seven assists, scoring 29 of the Cavalier’s last 30 points that included the game-winning layup in a double-overtime victory against the Pistons.

James’ performance was described as “Jordan-esque” by now Golden State Warriors coach and former commentator Steve Kerr said, while the iconic play-by-play announcer Marv Albert called it “one of the greatest moments in postseason history”. The Cavaliers made the 2007 NBA Finals after eliminating the Pistons in six games. They would face the San Antonio Spurs Big Three in Hall of Famers Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, that had already won two NBA titles together as a trio at the time alongside legendary head coach Gregg Popovich.

The Spurs ended up sweeping a Cavaliers team that wasn’t very talented outside of James, which goes to show how great of a player he really is, considering he carried a roster of Ira Newble, Larry Hughes, and others, not a single other Hall of Famer alongside him. James didn’t have his most efficient series, averaging 22 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game on just 35.6 percent shooting.

He didn’t get the result he wanted, but at just 22 years old, James had already been a multi-time All-Star, an All-NBA selection and led his team to a Finals berth despite coming up short. Duncan won the fourth of his five titles that season, with Parker capturing the Finals MVP. James was upset with the result, but Duncan made it known to James that it was going to be his league soon.

Boy, was he right as James, the next three seasons of his first stint in Cleveland, saw him capture the one and only scoring title of his career in 2008 with 30.2 points per game. He was also named All-Star MVP for the second time in his career. He faced what became his longtime rival throughout his tenure in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics had numerous all-time greats in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and a young Rajon Rondo in a team that was a powerhouse defensively led by the Defensive Player of the Year that year in Garnett.

James was establishing himself as the premier individual dominant talent in the league, coming against a more veteran-savvy team with more star power and depth in the ‘08 Celtics. He and one of his longtime rivals in Pierce had a duel for the ages that will be remembered in NBA lore in Game 7 in a do-or-die game that saw James score 45 and Pierce score 41, respectively, in a classic shootout.

The Celtics became the eventual champions that season, something James was still itching to achieve, but one thing he did check off his list was winning back-to-back MVPs in 2009 and 2010 while also making the All-Defensive teams in both seasons. He gave us that vintage game-winner against the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic in Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals.

The very next year was a contract year that many media pundits were keeping a close eye on as James pending free agency in 2010 was looming as the pressure to win a championship was mounting. The Cavaliers faced the Celtics again in the semifinal round where they lost in Game 6 at TD Garden despite James' 27 points, 19 rebounds, and ten assists, but also nine turnovers in a losing effort.

A defeated-looking LeBron took off his Cavaliers jersey, as he walked through the tunnel chomping on his mouthpiece as he knew a big career-altering decision awaited him.

James became an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2010, with teams such as the Miami Heat, Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, and New Jersey Nets (now Brooklyn Nets) as the potential destinations for his services.

The most anticipated sports free agent event in history happened July 8, 2010, which was a career-altering moment for James and a league-altering move that forever changed the landscape of the NBA and sports. It was “The Decision”, an hour-long televised special conducted by ESPN with legendary sports commentator Jim Gray conducting the interview with James, all donations going to the Boys & Girls Club.

In the interview, you saw a very poised man who also seemed nervous with the weight of the world on his shoulders with millions watching around the world, the anticipation magnifying, waiting for the words to come out of his mouth of which team he would play for next. And at last, it happened: Gray asked the question, and James stated he would join South Beach to play for the Heat, who had superstar guard Dwyane Wade and just acquired former Raptors star forward Chris Bosh that same offseason.

As expected, James was condemned by the media, unlike anything we’ve ever seen toward an athlete, from past legends such as Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson criticizing James’ move to media members disparaging him to people of Ohio burning his jersey,… It was that insane.

He was the villain that season in 2010-11, with many wanting “The Heatles” to fail. The Heat’s Big Three era didn’t start off well, getting off to a 9-8 record through the first 17 games. He faced the Cavaliers for the first time on December 2, 2010, in one of the most horrifying, chaotic sequences of a former athlete returning to play their former team in modern sports history.

The roars of boos were as loud as a lion, fans wearing victim shirts, posters of “Quitness” with the Nike symbol, people holding up a poster of James that said “LeQuit” and other sickening signs. Despite all that, James scored 38 points to help his team secure the win in one of the most hostile environments in NBA history.

The Heat eventually turned it around as James, Wade, and Bosh's chemistry built throughout the season, ultimately finishing as the second seed in the East. James averaged 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and seven assists per game on 51 percent shooting.

The Heat made the first of four consecutive NBA Finals trips that year, facing the Dallas Mavericks ,who had two Hall of Famers in Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd, along with savvy veterans in Jason Terry, Jose Barea and defensive specialists in Deshawn Stevenson and Tyson Chandler.

The Heat lost to the Mavericks in six games after having a 2-0 series lead, with many blaming James for his “meltdown” in the Finals that year, averaging just 17.8 points per game, a significant dip from his usual career averages. After the Heat’s loss in the Finals, James faced scrutiny like no athlete before, with many media members obliterating his name, such as Skip Bayless (who’s known to criticize James to a fault), calling him “The Frozen One” or “LeAlfred” as he does in the video below.

James used this loss in 2011 as motivation in what was a turning point in his career and maturation as a player. He went to work out with the great Hakeem Olajuwon on his low post game that offseason, something he struggled with in the Finals posting up smaller guards such as Terry and Barea.

In a lockout year in 2011-12, James embraced the villain role that year and unleashed on the league, taking home the MVP that year with averages of 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.9 steals per game on 53 percent shooting. In the second round of the playoffs that year against the tough, rugged Indiana Pacers team, James stepped up with Bosh being out most of the series with an abdominal injury, scoring 40 points, grabbing 18 rebounds, and dishing nine assists in Game 4 to tie the series. The Heat eventually advanced to play the Celtics in the conference finals.

It's Game 6. The Heat are facing a 3-2 deficit against the Celtics with Game 6 at TD Garden in what was a legacy-defining moment for James. He delivered one of the best postseason performances in NBA history, recording 45 points and 15 rebounds in an absurd display of dominance that is arguably the greatest game of his illustrious career due to the circumstances of the moment.

The New York Times called it a “career-defining moment” for arguably the greatest player in league history. The Heat ended up going to the Finals again, this time against a young upcoming Oklahoma City Thunder team that had three future MVPs of the league in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden, who was Sixth Man of the Year that season.

James helped lead the Heat to their second title in franchise history and the first of his elusive career, averaging 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game to go on and be named the unanimous Bill Russell Finals MVP for the first time in his career, hugging his teammates and jumping up in joy as the clock ticked down in pursuit of his first title becoming a reality.

Having that monkey off his back helped James not feel the weight of the world on his shoulders, which led to him being named league MVP for the fourth time in his career (falling a vote shy of being unanimous)and leading the Heat to back-to-back titles in 2013 where he was named Finals MVP for the second consecutive season after scoring 37 points in Game 7 after a whirlwind Game 6 that ended with Ray Allen hitting the biggest shot in NBA history to tie the game at 95 a piece against the Spurs with 5 seconds remaining in one of the best moments in sports lore.

In 2014 he scored a career-high 61 points against the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets) and had another dominant year with averages of 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game on 56.7 percent shooting. The Heat advanced to the Finals to play a vengeful Spurs team that season that had arguably the best ball movement of any team ever. The Heat lost in five games due to injury to Wade and just simply being outplayed by the Spurs' ball movement and elite shooting.

James averaged 28.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game in the 2014 Finals loss. With a Heat team that was clearly aging with James still at the peak of his powers, he decided to opt out of his contract to become a free agent in the summer of 2014. He decided to return to his hometown Cleveland in a first-person essay and announcement.

That same offseason, the Cavaliers received All-Star power forward Kevin Love via trade in the 2014 NBA Draft for No.1 pick Andrew Wiggins. The Cavaliers also had a young rising star point guard at the time Kyrie Irving who had established himself as a star in the league but had yet to win anything.

In that 2014-15 season, the Cavaliers finished second in the East with a 53-29 record behind only the 60-22 Atlanta Hawks. The Cavaliers made the Finals that year after defeating the Hawks in the Conference Finals, where they would play the fresh-faced Golden State Warriors at the time, led by their lethal shooting backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, along with swiss army knives in Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala who were defensive stalwarts.

Unfortunately, the Cavaliers would lose the series in six games to the Warriors, with Irving going out in Game 1 with a broken kneecap and Love being out with a dislocated shoulder he suffered against the Celtics that year with Kelly Olynk pulling it out of the socket. Despite the Cavaliers losing in six games, James still put up monstrous finals numbers, some even considering naming him Finals MVP, averaging a staggering 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game.

The next season the Cavaliers saw a coaching change from David Blatt to former NBA player and champion Tyronn Lue in the early part of the 2015-16 season. Despite the early distractions, the Cavaliers finished with a 57-25 record that season, good for best in the East. James averaged 25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists on 52% shooting from the field.

The Cavaliers advanced to the Finals once again in a rematch against the Warriors, who had just completed the single-greatest regular season in NBA history with a 73-9 record led by Stephen Curry, who was named the first-ever unanimous MVP in NBA history, which gave him the second of his career. The series started off with the Cavaliers falling to a 3-1 deficit, with no team in league history ever overcoming such a deficit in Finals history. James helped the Cavaliers' chances in Game 4 by getting Green suspended for Game 5, which played a role in helping them build momentum.

With the odds against them, that didn’t stop LeBron and the Cavaliers from defying the odds and making history, and that’s exactly what they did in scintillating fashion. In Game 5 at Oracle Arena, James and Irving put on a historical display by scoring 41 points apiece, the first time a duo scored 40+ points in a final game.

That gave the Cavaliers life going into Game 6 at Quickens Loans Arena and they used that momentum from Game 5 to their advantage in Game 6, with James going for 41 once again in a dominant display while also contributing with 11 assists and tremendous defense in a classic victory. The pressure shifted onto the Warriors, which is exactly what James and the Cavaliers wanted as Game 7 approached.

Game 7 was one of the most watched in league history, averaging over 31 million viewers and peaking at 44.8 million. Game 7 was filled with iconic moments and frantic pace, from “The Block” by James to “The Shot” by Irving over Curry to give them a 92-89 lead with just 53 seconds to go, to “The Stop” by Love. James finished with a triple-double that game of 27-11-11 in an all-time performance and game that will be remembered in NBA lore. The Cavaliers had done the impossible by becoming the first and only team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 Finals deficit to win.

James was already a champion before, but it made it all the sweeter in the fashion he did it, and he had brought home a title to his hometown Cleveland, their first in 52 years as a city in all sports (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB). In the postgame interview, James gave one of the most iconic postgame pressers with “Cleveland, this is for you!”

That Cavaliers Finals victory led to dramatic ramifications that offseason in the NBA as then Thunder superstar forward Kevin Durant signed with the 73-9 Warriors to form the ultimate offensive powerhouse unlike anything the league has seen before or since with him, Curry, Thompson, Green, and Iguodala which will go on form one of the greatest starving fives ever known as the “Hampton Five”.

With Durant on the Warriors, it denied James another potential two titles in their Finals matchups in 2017 and 2018, with 2018 being without Irving as he left to sign with the Boston Celtics in the offseason of 2017 due to rumors of friction with James. The Cavaliers lost to the Warriors in five games in 2017 and got swept in 2018 despite some superhuman performances by James, which included a 50-point masterpiece that was ruined by a J. R. Smith brainfart.

In the summer of 2018, James decided to take his talents out of the Eastern Conference and go to the west coast to join the storied Los Angeles Lakers. Upon his arrival, the Lakers missed the playoffs each of the previous five seasons and were desperate for a superstar who could help bring winning back to Los Angeles.

The Lakers were playing great basketball early in the season, being as high as a fourth seed in the West before James hurt his groin, the first major injury of his career on Christmas Day against the defending champion Warriors at Oracle, which caused him to miss 17 consecutive games and caused the Lakers to plummet in the standings and miss the postseason for the sixth consecutive season.

After missing the postseason once again, the Lakers made sure to not let the same fate happen again by making major offseason moves by hiring former Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel, who was a defensive genius, while trading away for superstar forward Anthony Davis by giving up their young core Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and three first-round picks to the New Orleans Pelicans for the best big man in the game at the time.

The vast improvement of the roster gave the Lakers a big jolt they needed in 2019-20, starting the season with a 17-2 record, matching the best start in franchise history. That season James passed Lakers legend Kobe Bryant on the all-time scoring list one day prior to Bryant’s untimely death in a helicopter crash of him, his daughter Gianna and seven others.

That season was one full of emotions and changed the world forever as the COVID-19 pandemic caused a pause to the NBA season in March of 2020, caused many jobs to shut down, and forced many people to stay at home around the world. With all the added motivation of the pandemic and Bryant’s passing, the Lakers would go on to win the title in six games over the Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo-led Miami Heat in the NBA Bubble in Orlando, Florida where the NBA would resume the season in July of 2020.

The NBA would reduce to 72 games that season due to COVID-19 and the shortened offseason. Unfortunately, the Lakers' quest for a repeat in 2020-21 was halted by nagging injuries to Davis and James dealing with an ankle sprain that nagged him for most of the season. Despite a disappointing season in which the Lakers finished 42-30 (7th in the West), James continued his record-breaking streak of All-NBA selections by extending it to 17(now 18), which is absurd!

The Lakers would get bounced out of the first round of the playoffs that year to the Finals runner-up in the Devin Booker, Chris Paul-led Phoenix Suns with Davis sidelined due to injury.

In 2021-22, the NBA’s famed 75th season, James was easily named to the 75th team and became the only player to record 30,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, and 10,000 career assists while also becoming the second player to ever score 37,000 points (the first being Kareem). The Lakers dealt with numerous injuries to Davis & James again, costing them to miss the playoffs despite having other fellow NBA 75 members in Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook, whom the Lakers traded for in the 2021 NBA Draft.

The Lakers missed the playoffs for the second consecutive time, just two seasons after capturing the NBA title. James is now in the 20th season of his illustrious career and is on the verge of surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s historic all-time scoring record that has stood for over 35 years! Absolutely insane and unprecedented to even think about.

James just surpassed Kareem’s record Tuesday night against the Thunder on a classic fadeaway jumper, a few weeks after becoming the second player to surpass 38,000-point plateau and has the chance to become the first player to score 40,000 career points as he might play two more seasons after this one. He also just became fourth on the all-time assists list by surpassing point guard savants Steve Nash and Mark Jackson, continuing to show why he’s the best all-around player to ever touch a basketball.

What James has done in his career on and off the court is truly unmatched by any player in sports history, his impact is immeasurable, and the fact that he has exceeded all the hype that was thrust upon him since he was a teenager is truly unfathomable and unprecedented to even comprehend how he did it without getting into a smidge of trouble throughout his career.

James has carried the game of basketball to new heights by being a voice on social issues around the world and showing players in sports they can take their careers into their own matters. He truly is “The Chosen One”, and his legacy will be felt forever after he’s gone in sports and all around the world.

He is "The King!"

Is LeBron the GOAT?

  • Yes, he's the King!!

  • No it's MJ

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