What if the King never reigned?

Michael Moses

As a high school basketball player, he was bigger than any professional athlete at the time. He drove an $80,000 Hummer. He won Ohio’s Mr. Basketball – three times. His boyish face graced the covers of “SLAM,” “ESPN The Magazine” and “Sports Illustrated” by the age of 18. The media covered his practices. Shaq went to a game. He was the real-life Jesus Shuttlesworth.

If there was a basketball God, Lebron James had that role down pat. He won every imaginable National High School award possible in 2002-2003, including Naismith Prep Player of the Year. Hell, he won Gatorade National Player of the Year twice (received it his junior season as well). With averages of 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.4 steals on the season, it was obvious James was headed for NBA stardom. It’s too bad that “King James,” as he was once dubbed, didn’t live up to all of the expectations.

His story is the perfect example of what the media can do to a young athlete in search of greatness. The amount of pressure James faced at such a young age was incredible. It’s no wonder he’s been such a failure thus far. After his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, selected him with the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, it all went downhill. It was, once again, a classic case of picking for potential rather than ability.

James traveled with a posse, which was a concern from day one. His loudmouth mother, whom everyone got glimpses of during his nationally televised high school games, was the leader of the pack. During post-game press conferences, she would scream at reporters, criticizing them if they criticized her Bron-Bron. This all came to an abrupt end when Gloria James got into a physical confrontation with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith after a game during James’ rookie season. She is currently serving jail time.

His friends have continually gotten him into trouble and have kept him from reaching his full potential. James was photographed at a party with a bong, which hinted at marijuana use. Multiple strip club incidents, a certain one including rapper Jermaine Dupri and “making it rain” over the strippers have greatly damaged his image.

For all of the basketball “skills” James possessed in high school, virtually none transferred to the much faster, physical NBA game. The knock ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas had with James was his outside shot.

“He will never be a consistent perimeter player, nor will he be a threat behind the 3-point line,” he exclaimed.

The general public laughed and criticized Bilas, thinking that James would never fail. Looking back on Bilas’ remarks, he is now the one laughing at us.

In his six NBA seasons, James has averaged just over 10 points per game, with a dismal 3.5 assists per contest. Once a living legend, once a superstar, James has not measured up to the “King James” status the public was hoping for. We must not be upset at the former king. Basketball is just a game. It’s nothing more.

Can you imagine if it played out like that? I can’t either. He was as good as advertised. He was supposed to make it. And damn. he did.

(Lebron James’s new movie, More than a Game, hits select theatres tonight. It is a documentary following his St. Vincent-St. Mary High School basketball team throughout its senior season.)

Contact sports columnist Michael Moses at [email protected].