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LeBron James: The Incredible Journey to the NBA

Posted on October 21, 2020 by Tiffany Watts

King James, The Chosen One, Greatest of All Time – these are just a few of the names that LeBron James has been known for his entire career. Indeed, the last one may seem contentious and is the source of constant dispute, but there’s no denying that he belongs in that conversation.

After winning the 2020 NBA Championship, LeBron has once again proven that he is one of the best basketball players in the world, if not the absolute and undisputed greatest player today.

At the age of 35, LeBron continues to dominate the competition which is unprecedented for someone who’s already spent 17 straight years playing in the NBA at the highest possible level. People remain wondering when Father Time will catch up to him, but that’s beside the point.

In his already historic career, LeBron has served as an inspiration not just for the young players in the league today, but also for regular people around the world. But it would be wrong to say that he was merely destined for this greatness. Much like other people, LeBron has had his fair share of struggles. A look back at his life and journey to the NBA into becoming one of the greatest athletes of all time is something that will truly motivate and inspire anyone, basketball fan or not.

LeBron’s Childhood

LeBron Raymone James Sr. was born on December 30, 1984, in Akron, Ohio. His mother, Gloria Marie James, was 16 at the time. LeBron’s father did not have a presence in his life, and it was only him and his mother since day one.

The early years of LeBron’s life were filled with constant movement from home to home. His mother struggled to find steady employment. He struggled to make friends in school, and he found it difficult to focus on his studies due to his situation. He fortunately found an outlet for himself by playing sports. He mainly played basketball and football.

He began playing organized basketball when he was in the fifth grade, and later on joined the Northeast Ohio Shooting Stars in the Amateur Athletic Union. This was where the seeds of greatness were planted.

A Star Athlete

LeBron went to high school in St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, where he played for the school’s football and basketball teams.

He immediately made an impact in the school’s basketball program. During his freshman year, he led the Fighting Irish to a perfect 27-0 record. He remained stellar throughout his high school playing days, being named Ohio Mr. Basketball and getting selected to the USA Today All-USA First Team consistently.

At age 17, he became the first high school underclassman to appear in the cover of Sports Illustrated.

After his senior year, he made it official that he would enter the 2003 NBA draft.

Entering the NBA

In the 2003 NBA draft which is widely regarded as one of the greatest draft classes of all time, LeBron was selected by his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. He immediately made an impact in Cleveland, elevating the team to a 35-47 record, 18 wins more than the previous season.

Even though Cleveland failed to make the playoffs despite LeBron’s significant contributions, his efforts were recognized when he became the first Cleveland Cavalier to win the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, besting Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh who were all selected in the top 5 of the draft class,

Cleveland’s Savior?

In the following years, LeBron proved that he was more than just a highly touted prospect. He earned his first NBA All-Star Game selection in the 2004-05 season, playing with the likes of established players and now NBA legends such as Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Dirk Nowitzki.

At the 2006 All-Star Game, LeBron won his first of three All-Star Game MVPs after leading the Eastern Conference to victory.

LeBron made his postseason debut in 2006, leading the Cavaliers to the playoffs for the first time since 1998. Despite tremendous performances from James, the Cavaliers were eliminated by the Detroit Pistons in the second round.

The following season saw LeBron make a tremendous leap. Despite a dip in his regular season averages, he led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, going head-to-head against the San Antonio Spurs. The star power of the Spurs led by Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili were however too much for LeBron’s Cavaliers. San Antonio bested Cleveland in 4 games.

For the succeeding seasons, LeBron continued to dominate the NBA, winning his first two MVP awards in 2009 and 2010. The Cavs however struggled to make a splash in the postseason, with James and the Cavaliers being unable to get through the Boston Celtics and the Orlando Magic in the postseasons that ensued.

The Decision

Failing to get over the hump in Cleveland led to 2010’s infamous The Decision. In what is perhaps the most dramatic free agency announcement of all time, LeBron announced that he will be leaving Cleveland and taking his talents to South Beach to form the first superteam of the decade with his draft classmates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

James’ move to Miami has led to much criticism, and the Chosen One became the villain of the NBA at the time.

The Miami Big Three Era

The Miami Heat’s big three was subjected to scrutiny and criticism, most of which were directed at LeBron for abandoning Cleveland to chase titles. This reached its peak when the Miami Heat faced off against Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals. The Heat infamously lost to Dallas in six games, after much expectation that the Miami superteam will win the title.

The following years saw LeBron come back with a vengeance and take over the NBA. He won back-to-back MVP awards in 2012 and 2013, the same years which also saw him win championships against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs, respectively. Of course, James made sure to take home some more hardware on the way, winning Finals MVP for both years as well.

In 2014, the Big Three era came to an end when the San Antonio Spurs claimed their vengeance, defeating the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals in five games.

Homecoming in Cleveland

After a failed three-peat, LeBron opted out of his contract with Miami and announced his intention to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the Cavaliers, he formed another big three with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

In his first year back with the Cavaliers, James led Cleveland back to the 2015 NBA Finals, becoming the first player since the 1960s to reach the final round of the postseason for five consecutive times. However, following unfortunate injuries from Irving and Love, Cleveland was eliminated by the Golden State Warriors in six games.

Fast forward to the next postseason and history was created. In a rematch between the Warriors and the Cavaliers, James led the Cavs in what is perhaps the most epic comeback in sports history. Down 1-3 against Golden State, the Cavaliers won the next three games to become the first team to come back from such a deficit in NBA Finals history. LeBron delivered on his promise and brought Cleveland its first sports title after 52 years. Needless to say, he also won his third NBA Finals MVP award.

The succeeding years saw the dominance of the Golden State Warriors which enlisted the services of Kevin Durant. LeBron once again faced off against the Warriors in 2017 and 2018 but the sheer star power of Golden State prevailed in both finals series. Nonetheless, LeBron gave another reason to place himself in the record books by making eight straight NBA Finals appearances throughout that stretch.

Joining the Lakers

In the 2018 offseason, LeBron opted out of his contract with Cleveland and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. The 2018 season which saw James team up with an unproven young core in Los Angeles was not as glorious as LeBron’s previous seasons.

After injuring his groin early in the season, James was not able to come back early and strong enough to lead Los Angeles to the playoffs.

The following offseason, Los Angeles made a move that paired LeBron with superstar big man Anthony Davis. The dramatic 2019-2020 season was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, but LeBron nevertheless made history.

On January 25, 2020, LeBron surpassed Kobe Bryant for third place in the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Due to the pandemic, the season was suspended but the NBA returned in the bubble and the Lakers resumed their dominance, finishing first in the Western Conference with a 52-19 record.

Los Angeles made a deep run in the playoffs which ultimately saw them win the NBA Finals in six games against the Miami Heat. LeBron’s fourth ring also brought him his fourth Finals MVP Award. He is the first player in the history of the league to win the Finals MVP Award with three different teams. 

What’s Next?

At age 35, LeBron has done just about everything in the book and his entry to the Hall of Fame is surely guaranteed. The question is, when will he slow down? 17 years in the league is bound to take a toll on anyone, but LeBron just seems to defy the laws of Father Time and stay at the peak of the game.

It’s not unlikely that LeBron ends up first in the all-time scoring list, and that he add to his 16 All-Star Selections and 16 All-NBA Selections. With four rings in his name and the numerous accolades he has received, his legacy as one of the best players in the history of basketball is secured.

Of course, people will continue to debate on whether or not LeBron is indeed the Greatest Player of All Time, and that’s for fans to decide for themselves. The only thing that’s certain is that we are all witnesses.

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