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LeBron James

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LeBron James
LeBron James (31944491583).jpg
James with the Cavaliers in 2017
No. 23 – Cleveland Cavaliers
Position Small forward
League NBA
Personal information
Born (1984-12-30) December 30, 1984 (age 32)
Akron, Ohio
Nationality American
Listed height 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m)
Listed weight 260 lb (118 kg)
Career information
High school St. Vincent–St. Mary
(Akron, Ohio)
NBA draft 2003 / Round: 1 / Pick: 1st overall
Selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers
Playing career 2003–present
Career history
20032010 Cleveland Cavaliers
20102014 Miami Heat
2014–present Cleveland Cavaliers
Career highlights and awards
Stats at NBA.com
Stats at Basketball-Reference.com

LeBron Raymone James (/ləˈbrɒn/; born December 30, 1984) is an American professional basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). James has won three NBA championships, four NBA Most Valuable Player Awards, three NBA Finals MVP Awards, two Olympic gold medals, an NBA scoring title, and the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. He has also been selected to 13 NBA All-Star teams, 13 All-NBA teams, and six All-Defensive teams, is the Cavaliers' all-time leading scorer, and is the NBA career playoff scoring leader.

James played high school basketball at St. Vincent–St. Mary High School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, where he was highly promoted in the national media as a future NBA superstar. After graduating, he was selected by his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, as the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft. James led Cleveland to the franchise's first Finals appearance in 2007, ultimately losing to the San Antonio Spurs. In 2010, he left the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in a highly publicized ESPN special titled The Decision. James spent four seasons with the Heat, reaching the Finals all four years and winning back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013. In 2013, he led Miami on a 27-game winning streak, the third longest in league history. Following his final season with the Heat, James opted out of his contract and returned to the Cavaliers. He led the Cavaliers to three consecutive Finals series between 2015 and 2017, winning his third championship in 2016 to end Cleveland's 52-year professional sports title drought.

Off the court, James has accumulated considerable wealth and fame from numerous endorsement contracts. His public life has been the subject of much scrutiny, and he has been ranked as one of America's most influential and popular athletes. He has been featured in books, documentaries, and television commercials. He also hosted the ESPY Awards, Saturday Night Live, and appeared in the 2015 film Trainwreck.

Early life

James was born on December 30, 1984 in Akron, Ohio to a 16-year-old mother, Gloria Marie James, who raised James on her own.[1][2]:22 When James was growing up, life was often a struggle for the family, as they moved from apartment to apartment in the seedier neighborhoods of Akron while Gloria struggled to find steady work.[3] Realizing that he would be better off in a more stable family environment, Gloria allowed James to move in with the family of Frank Walker, a local youth football coach, who introduced James to basketball when he was nine years old.[2]:23

As a youth, James played Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball for the Northeast Ohio Shooting Stars.[3] The team enjoyed success on a local and national level, led by James and his friends Sian Cotton, Dru Joyce III, and Willie McGee.[2]:24 The players were inseparable and dubbed themselves the "Fab Four", promising each other that they would attend high school together.[2]:27 In a move that stirred local controversy, they chose to attend St. Vincent–St. Mary High School, a predominately white private Catholic school.[4][5]

High school career

Basketball

As a freshman, James averaged 21 points and 6 rebounds per game for the St. Vincent-St. Mary varsity basketball team.[6] The Fighting Irish finished the year 27–0, winning the Division III state title.[6] As a sophomore, James averaged 25.2 points and 7.2 rebounds with 5.8 assists and 3.8 steals per game.[7] For some home games during the season, St. Vincent-St. Mary played at the University of Akron's 5,492-seat Rhodes Arena to satisfy ticket demand from alumni, fans, and college and NBA scouts who wanted to see James play.[2]:51[8] The Fighting Irish finished the season 26–1 and repeated as state champions.[6] For his outstanding play, James was named Ohio Mr. Basketball and selected to the USA Today All-USA First Team, becoming the first sophomore to do either.[9]

Prior to the start of James' junior year, he appeared in SLAM Magazine and was lauded as possibly "the best high school basketball player in America right now" by writer Ryan Jones.[10] During the season, he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, becoming the first high school basketball underclassman to do so.[2]:104 With averages of 29 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 3.3 steals per game,[6] he was again named Ohio Mr. Basketball and selected to the USA Today All-USA First Team,[6] and became the first junior to be named boys' basketball Gatorade National Player of the Year.[2]:117 St. Vincent-St. Mary finished the year with a 23–4 record, ending their season with a loss in the Division II championship game.[2]:114 Following the loss, James seriously considered declaring for the 2002 NBA draft, unsuccessfully petitioning for an adjustment to the NBA's draft eligibility rules that required prospective players to have at least graduated from high school.[11] During this time, he used marijuana to help cope with the stress that resulted from the constant media attention he was receiving.[12][13][14]

Throughout his senior year, James and the Fighting Irish traveled around the country to play a number of nationally ranked teams, including a game against Oak Hill Academy that was nationally televised on ESPN2.[2]:142 Time Warner Cable, looking to capitalize on James' popularity, offered St. Vincent-St. Mary's games to subscribers on a pay-per-view basis throughout the season.[2]:143 For the year, James averaged 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 3.4 steals per game,[9] was named Ohio Mr. Basketball and selected to the USA Today All-USA First Team for an unprecedented third consecutive year,[2]:178[6] and was named Gatorade National Player of the Year for the second consecutive year.[6] He participated in three year-end high school basketball all-star games—the EA Sports Roundball Classic, the Jordan Capital Classic, and the McDonald's All-American Game—losing his National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) eligibility and making it official that he would enter the 2003 NBA draft.[15] Many basketball analysts, scouts, and writers have noted that James left high school as one of the best and most hyped prospects of all-time.[2]:142[16][17][18][19]

Also during his senior year, James was the centerpiece of several controversies. For his 18th birthday, he skirted state amateur bylaws by accepting a Hummer H2 from his mother, who had secured a loan for the vehicle by utilizing LeBron's future earning power as a professional athlete.[20] This prompted an investigation by the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) because its guidelines stated that no amateur may accept any gift valued over $100 as a reward for athletic performance. James was cleared of any wrongdoing because he had accepted the gift from a family member and not from an agent or any outside source.[15] Later in the season, James accepted two throwback jerseys worth $845 from an urban clothing store in exchange for posing for pictures, officially violating OHSAA rules and resulting in him being stripped of his high school sports eligibility.[15] James appealed the ruling and his penalty was eventually dropped to a two-game suspension, allowing him to play the remainder of the year. The Irish were also forced to forfeit one of their wins, their only official loss that season.[21] In his first game back after the suspension, James scored a career-high 52 points.[22]

Football

James played wide receiver for St. Vincent-St. Mary's football team in high school and was recruited by some Division I programs, including Notre Dame.[2]:51[23] As a sophomore, he was named first team all-state, and as a junior, he led the Fighting Irish to the state semifinals.[7] He decided to stop playing high school football before his senior year, after he broke his wrist during an AAU basketball game.[24] Many sports analysts, football critics, high school coaches, and former and current players have speculated on whether he could have played in the National Football League.[2]:91[25][26][27][28]

Professional career

Cleveland Cavaliers (2003–2010)

Rookie season (2003–2004)

James picks up his dribble against the Washington Wizards in November 2006.

James was selected by his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, as the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft.[29] In his first regular season game, he scored 25 points against the Sacramento Kings, setting an NBA record for most points scored by a prep-to-pro player in his debut performance.[30] At the conclusion of the season, he was named the NBA Rookie of the Year, finishing with averages of 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game.[31] He became the first Cavalier to receive the honor and just the third player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game as a rookie.[32] The Cavaliers finished the season 35–47, failing to make the playoffs despite an 18-game improvement over the previous year.[33]

Rise to superstardom (2004–2008)

James earned his first NBA All-Star Game selection in 2004–05, contributing 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists in a winning effort for the Eastern Conference.[34] Around the league, teams took note of his rapid development, with Denver Nuggets coach George Karl telling Sports Illustrated, "It's weird talking about a 20-year-old kid being a great player, but he is a great player ... He's the exception to almost every rule."[35] On March 20, James scored 56 points against the Toronto Raptors, setting Cleveland's new single-game points record.[36] With final averages of 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 2.2 steals per game, he was named to his first All-NBA Team.[7] Despite a 30–20 record to start the year,[36] the Cavaliers again failed to make the playoffs, finishing the season at 42–40.[37]

At the 2006 All-Star Game, James led the East to victory with 29 points and was named the NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player.[38] Behind final season averages of 31.4 points, 7 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game,[39] he finished second in overall NBA Most Valuable Player Award voting to Steve Nash.[40] Under James' leadership, the Cavaliers qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1998.[41] In his postseason debut, he recorded a triple-double in a winning effort versus the Washington Wizards.[42] In Game 3 of the series, he made the first game-winning shot of his career, making another in Game 5.[43] Cleveland would go on to defeat the Wizards before being ousted by the Detroit Pistons in the second round.[44][45]

James engages in his pre-game ritual of tossing crushed chalk into the air in March 2008. The routine was mostly retired after 2011.[46][47]

In 2006–07, James' averages declined to 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1.6 steals per game.[7] Some analysts attributed the fall to a regression in his passing skills and shot selection, stemming from a lack of effort and focus.[48] The Cavaliers finished the season with 50 wins for the second consecutive year and entered the playoffs as the East's second seed.[49][50] In Game 5 of the Conference Finals, James notched 48 points with 9 rebounds and 7 assists, scoring 29 of Cleveland's last 30 points, including the game-winning layup with two seconds left, against the Pistons.[51] After the game, play-by-play announcer Marv Albert called the performance "one of the greatest moments in postseason history" and color commentator Steve Kerr described it as "Jordan-esque".[52] In 2012, ESPN ranked the performance the fourth greatest in modern NBA playoff history.[53] The Cavaliers went on to win Game 6 and claim their first-ever Eastern Conference championship,[54] earning them a matchup with the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.[55] During the championship round, James struggled, averaging 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game on just 35.6 percent shooting,[56] and Cleveland was eliminated in a sweep.[55]

In February of the 2007–08 season, James was named All-Star Game MVP for the second time behind a 27-point, 8-rebound, and 9-assist performance.[57][58] On March 21, he moved past Brad Daugherty as the Cavaliers' all-time leading scorer in a game against the Raptors, doing so in over 100 less games than Daugherty.[59] His 30 points per game were also the highest in the league, representing his first scoring title.[60] Despite his individual accomplishments, Cleveland's record fell from the year before to 45–37.[61] Seeded fourth in the East entering the playoffs, the Cavaliers defeated the Wizards in the first round for the third consecutive season before being eliminated in seven games by the eventual-champion Boston Celtics in the next round.[62] During the decisive seventh game in Boston, James scored 45 points and Paul Pierce scored 41 in a game the Associated Press described as a "shootout".[63]

First MVP tenure (2008–2010)

James and DeShawn Stevenson in April 2008. The two had a short feud after Stevenson called James "overrated".[64]

At the conclusion of the 2008–09 season, James finished second in NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting and made his first NBA All-Defensive Team, posting 23 chase-down blocks and a career-high 93 total blocks.[65][66] He also became only the fourth postmerger player to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks in a single season.[67] Behind his play and the acquisition of All-Star guard Mo Williams, Cleveland went a franchise record 66–16 and fell one game short of matching the best home record in league history.[68] With averages of 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game, James became the first Cavalier to win the MVP Award.[69]

In the playoffs, Cleveland swept the Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks to earn a matchup with the Orlando Magic in the Conference Finals.[70] In Game 1 of the series, James scored 49 points on 66 percent shooting in a losing effort for the Cavaliers.[53] In Game 2, he hit a game-winner to tie the series at 1–1.[71] Cleveland would lose the series in six games, and following the loss in Game 6, James immediately left the floor without shaking hands with his opponents, an act many media members viewed as unsportsmanlike.[72][73] For the series, he averaged 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game,[74] finishing the postseason with a career playoff-high 35.3 points per game.[39]

Midway through the 2009–10 season, the Cavaliers' guards experienced significant injuries, forcing James into a temporary point guard role.[75] With increased minutes as the team's primary ball handler, he averaged 8.6 assists in addition to 29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals, and 1 block per game on 50 percent shooting, culminating in a second consecutive MVP Award.[76] Cleveland also finished the season with the league's best record for the second straight year.[77] In the playoffs, the Cavaliers defeated the Bulls in the first round but lost to the Celtics in the second round.[78] James was heavily criticized for not playing well in Game 5 of the series, shooting only 20 percent on 14 shots and scoring 15 points.[79] At the conclusion of the game, he walked off the court to a smattering of boos from Cleveland's home crowd, the team having just suffered their worst home playoff loss ever.[80] The Cavaliers were officially eliminated from the postseason in Game 6, with James recording 27 points, 19 rebounds, 10 assists, and nine turnovers in a losing effort.[78]

2010 free agency

James with the Cavaliers in November 2009. He finished his first stint with the Cavs averaging 27.8 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and 1.7 steals per game.[81]

James became an unrestricted free agent at 12:01 am EDT on July 1, 2010.[82] During his free agency, he was contacted by several teams, including the Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, and Cavaliers.[83] On July 8, he announced that he would sign with the Heat on a live ESPN special titled The Decision.[84] The telecast, broadcast from the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, Connecticut, raised $2.5 million for the charity and an additional $3.5 million from advertisement revenue that was donated to other charities.[85][86] The day before the special, fellow free agents Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade had also announced that they would sign with Miami;[87][88] reports later arose that the trio had discussed their 2010 free agencies together in 2006.[89] James decided to join with Bosh and Wade in part so that he could shoulder less of the load offensively, thinking that his improved teammates would give him a better chance of winning a championship than had he stayed in Cleveland.[90][91] Heat president Pat Riley played a major role in selling James on the idea of playing with Bosh and Wade.[92] Relieved of the burden of scoring, James thought he could be the first player to average a triple-double in a season since Oscar Robertson.[90]

James drew intense criticism from sports analysts, executives, fans, and current and former players for leaving the Cavaliers. The Decision itself was also scrutinized and viewed as unnecessary. Many thought the prolonged wait for James' choice was unprofessional as not even the teams courting him were aware of his decision until moments before the show.[93] Upon learning that James would not be returning to Cleveland, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert published an open letter to fans in which he aggressively denounced James' actions.[94] Some angry fans of the team recorded videos of themselves burning his jersey.[95] Former NBA players, including Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, were also critical of James, condemning him for joining with Bosh and Wade in Miami and not trying to win a championship as "the guy".[96][97][98] James drew further criticism in a September interview with CNN when he claimed that race might have been a factor in the fallout from The Decision.[99][100] As a result of his actions during the 2010 free agency period, he quickly gained a reputation as one of America's most disliked athletes, a radical change from years prior.[101][102] The phrase "taking my talents to South Beach" became a punch line for critics.[103][104]

Immediately following The Decision, James claimed that there was nothing he would change about the handling of his free agency despite all the criticism.[105] During the 2010–11 season, he expressed some regret, admitting, "[I] probably would do it a little bit different ... But I'm happy with my decision."[106] Before the 2011–12 season, he relented, "... if the shoe was on the other foot and I was a fan, and I was very passionate about one player, and he decided to leave, I would be upset too about the way he handled it."[102]

Miami Heat (2010–2014)

Year of controversy (2010–2011)

James attempts a slam dunk in March 2011 as a member of the Miami Heat.

James officially became a member of the Heat on July 10, 2010.[107] With the move, he became only the third reigning MVP to change teams and the first since Moses Malone in 1982.[108] That evening, the Heat threw a welcome party for their new "big three" at the American Airlines Arena, an event that took on a rock concert atmosphere.[109] During the gathering, James predicted a dynasty for the Heat and alluded to multiple championships.[110][111] Outside of Miami, the spectacle was not well-received, furthering the negative public perception of James.[112][113]

Throughout the 2010–11 season, James embraced the villain role that was bestowed upon him by the media, playing with an angry demeanor and less joy than in years past; he later admitted that he regretted this approach.[114] On December 2, he faced the Cavaliers in Cleveland for the first time since departing as a free agent, scoring 38 points and leading Miami to a win while being booed every time he touched the ball.[115][116] He finished the season with averages of 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7 assists per game on 51 percent shooting.[39] Entering the playoffs as the East's second seed, Miami advanced to the Finals before stumbling against the Dallas Mavericks, losing in six games despite holding a 2–1 series lead going into Game 4.[117] James received the brunt of the criticism for the loss, averaging only three points in fourth quarters in the series.[118] His Finals scoring average of 17.8 points per game signified an 8.9-point drop from the regular season, the largest point drop-off in league history.[119]

Back-to-back championships (2011–2013)

Humbled by the Heat's loss to the Mavericks, James spent the offseason working with Hakeem Olajuwon on his post game.[120] His work with Olajuwon paid off, fueling what Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry called "one of the greatest and most important transformations in recent sports history".[121] Behind James' more post-oriented play,[121] Miami matched their best start to a season in franchise history,[122] and at the conclusion of the lockout-shortened 2011–12 season, he was named MVP for the third time, finishing with averages of 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.9 steals per game on 53 percent shooting.[123]

James stands at midcourt during a dead ball in January 2013. On that night, he became the youngest player in NBA history to score 20,000 career points.[124]

In Game 4 of the second round of the playoffs, James registered 40 points, 18 rebounds, and 9 assists to help even the series against the Indiana Pacers.[125] Miami eventually defeated the Pacers in six games.[126] Facing elimination in Game 6 of the Conference Finals against the Celtics, James scored 45 points to lead the Heat to victory in what The New York Times called a "career-defining performance".[127] Miami won Game 7 to advance to the Finals, earning them a matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder.[126] Late in Game 4 of the series, James hit a three-pointer to give the Heat a lead, helping them win the game despite missing time with leg cramps.[128] In Game 5, he registered a triple-double as Miami defeated Oklahoma City for their second-ever championship and James' first championship.[129] James was unanimously voted the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player with averages of 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game.[130] His full postseason run, in which he averaged 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game, was later ranked the second best in modern NBA history by ESPN.[131]

In February of the 2012–13 season, James' performance was described by Sports Illustrated as a "month for the ages",[132] averaging 29.7 points and 7.8 assists per game while setting multiple shooting efficiency records.[133][134][135] During this period, the Heat began a 27-game winning streak, the third longest in NBA history.[136] Behind his play, Miami finished the year with a franchise and league best 66–16 record,[137] and James was named MVP for the fourth time, falling just one vote shy of becoming the first player in NBA history to win the award unanimously.[138] His final season averages were 26.8 points, 8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 1.7 steals per game on 56.5 percent shooting.[39]

In Game 1 of the Conference Finals, James scored a buzzer-beating layup to give Miami a one-point victory against the Pacers.[139] Throughout the series, his supporting cast struggled significantly, and his added scoring load prompted him to compare his responsibilities to those of his "Cleveland days".[140] Despite these struggles, the Heat advanced to the Finals for a meeting with the Spurs,[141] signifying a rematch for James from his first Finals six years earlier.[142] At the beginning of the series, he was criticized for his lack of aggressiveness and poor shot selection as Miami fell behind 2–3.[74][141][143] In Game 6, he recorded his second triple-double of the series, including 16 fourth quarter points, to lead the Heat to a comeback victory.[144] In Game 7, he tied the Finals record for most points scored in a Game 7 victory, leading Miami over San Antonio with 37 points.[145] He was named Finals MVP for the second straight season, averaging 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2.3 steals per game for the championship round.[146]

Fourth consecutive Finals (2013–2014)

On March 3 of the 2013–14 season, James scored a career-high and franchise-record 61 points in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats.[147] Throughout the year, he was one of the few staples for a Heat roster that used 20 different starting lineups due to injuries,[148] finishing with averages of 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game on 56.7 percent shooting.[39] In the second round of the playoffs, he tied a career postseason-high by scoring 49 points in Game 4 against the Brooklyn Nets.[149] In the next round, Miami defeated the Pacers to earn their fourth consecutive Finals berth, becoming one of only four teams in NBA history to do so.[150] In Game 1 of the Finals, James missed most of the fourth quarter because of leg cramps, helping the Spurs take an early series lead.[151] In Game 2, he led the Heat to a series-tying victory with 35 points on a 64 percent shooting rate.[152] San Antonio eventually eliminated the Heat in five games, ending Miami's quest for a three-peat.[153] For the Finals, James averaged 28.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2 steals per game.[154]

Return to the Cavaliers (2014–present)

2014 free agency

James throws a pass in December 2014. Later that season, he reached several passing milestones, including becoming the Cavaliers' all-time assists leader.[155][156]

On June 25, 2014, James opted out of his contract with the Heat, officially becoming an unrestricted free agent on July 1.[157] On July 11, he revealed via a first-person essay in Sports Illustrated that he intended to return to the Cavaliers.[158] In contrast to The Decision, his announcement to return to Cleveland was well received.[159][160][161] On July 12, he officially signed with the team,[162] who had compiled a league-worst 97–215 record in the four seasons following his departure.[163] A month after James' signing, the Cavaliers acquired Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves, forming a new star trio along with Kyrie Irving.[164]

Ending the 52-year Cleveland sports curse (2014–2016)

In January of the 2014–15 season, James missed two weeks due to left knee and lower back strains, the longest stretch of missed games in his career.[165] In total, he played a career-low 69 games and his final averages were 25.3 points, 6 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game.[39] In the second round of the playoffs, he hit a baseline jumper at the buzzer to give Cleveland a 2–2 series tie with the Bulls.[166] In the Conference Finals, the Cavaliers defeated the Hawks to advance to the Finals, making James the first player since the 1960s to play in five consecutive Finals.[167] For most of the Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Irving and Love were sidelined due to injury, giving James more offensive responsibilities.[167] Behind his leadership, the Cavaliers opened the series with a 2–1 lead before being eliminated in six games.[168] Despite the loss, he received serious consideration for the Finals MVP Award,[169] averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game for the championship round.[168]

During the 2015–16 season, James was criticized for his role in several off-court controversies, including the midseason firing of Cavaliers' head coach David Blatt.[170][171] Despite these distractions, Cleveland finished the year with 57 wins and the best record in the East.[172] James' final averages were 25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game on 52 percent shooting.[39] In the playoffs, the Cavaliers advanced comfortably to the Finals, losing only two games en route to a rematch with the Warriors,[172] who were coming off a record-setting 73 win season.[173] To begin the series, Cleveland fell behind 3–1, including two blowout losses.[174] James responded by registering back-to-back 41 point games in Games 5 and 6, leading the Cavaliers to two consecutive wins to stave off elimination.[175] In Game 7, he posted a triple-double and made a number of key plays, including a memorable chase-down block on Andre Iguodala in the final two minutes,[176][177][178] as Cleveland emerged victorious, winning the city's first professional sports title in 52 years and becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3–1 series deficit in the Finals.[179] James became just the third player to record a triple-double in an NBA Finals Game 7,[180] and behind series averages of 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.3 blocks, and 2.6 steals per game,[174] he also became the first player in league history to lead both teams in all five statistical categories for a playoff round, culminating in a unanimous Finals MVP selection.[181]

Post-championship (2017–present)

The 2016–17 season was marred by injuries and unexpected losses for the Cavaliers;[182] James later described it as one of the "strangest" years of his career.[183] Following a January defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans, he publicly criticized Cleveland's front office for constructing a team that he felt was too "top heavy", for which he received criticism.[184] The Cavaliers finished the season as the East's second seed, with James averaging 26.4 points and career highs in rebounds (8.6), assists (8.7), and turnovers (4.1) per game.[39] In Game 3 of the first round of the postseason, he registered 41 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists against the Pacers, leading Cleveland to a comeback victory after trailing by 25 points at halftime, representing the largest halftime deficit overcome in NBA playoff history.[185] In Game 5 of the Conference Finals against the Celtics, James scored 35 points and surpassed Michael Jordan as the league's all-time postseason scoring leader.[186] The Cavaliers won the game and the series, advancing to their third consecutive Finals against the Warriors.[187] Behind averages of 33.6 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists per game, James became the first player to average a triple-double in the Finals, but Cleveland was defeated in five games.[188]

National team career

James attempts a shot over China's Yao Ming at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

James made his debut for the United States national team at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.[189] He spent the Games mostly on the bench,[190][191] averaging 14.6 minutes per game with 5.8 points and 2.6 rebounds per game in eight games.[189] Team USA finished the competition with a bronze medal, becoming the first U.S. basketball team to return home without a gold medal since adding professionals to their line-up.[189][192] James felt his limited playing time was a "lowlight" and believed he was not given "a fair opportunity to play".[193] His attitude during the Olympics was described as "disrespectful" and "distasteful" by columnists Adrian Wojnarowski and Peter Vecsey, respectively.[194][195]

At the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan, James took on a greater role for Team USA, averaging 13.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game as co-captain.[196][197] The team finished the tournament with an 8–1 record, winning another bronze medal.[196] James' behavior was again questioned, this time by teammate Bruce Bowen, who confronted James during tryouts regarding his treatment of staff members.[194][198]

Before naming James to the 2008 Olympic team, Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski gave James an ultimatum to improve his attitude, and he heeded their advice.[194][199] At the FIBA Americas Championship 2007, he averaged 18.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game, including a 31-point performance against Argentina in the championship game, the most ever by an American in an Olympic qualifier.[200][201] Team USA went 10–0, winning the gold medal and qualifying for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.[189] James credited the team's attitude and experience for their improvement, saying: "I don't think we understood what it meant to put on a USA uniform and all the people that we were representing in 2004. We definitely know that now."[191] At the Olympics, Team USA went unbeaten, winning their first gold medal since 2000.[202] In the final game, James turned in 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists against Spain.[202]

James did not play at the 2010 FIBA World Championship but rejoined Team USA for the 2012 Olympics in London, England.[203] He became the leader of the team with Kobe Bryant, who would soon be 34, stepping back.[204][205][206] James facilitated the offense from the post and perimeter, called the defensive sets, and provided scoring when needed.[207][208][209][210] During a game against Australia, he recorded the first triple-double in U.S. Olympic basketball history with 11 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists.[a][210] Team USA went on to win their second straight gold medal, again defeating Spain in the final game.[212] James contributed 19 points in the win, becoming the all-time leading scorer in U.S. men's basketball history.[189][212] He also joined Michael Jordan as the only players to win an NBA MVP award, NBA championship, NBA Finals MVP, and Olympic gold medal in the same year.[213] Afterwards, Krzyzewski said James "is the best player, he is the best leader and he is as smart as anybody playing the game right now."[214]

Player profile

Standing 6 feet 8 inches (2.03 m) and weighing 250 pounds (113.4 kg), James has started at small forward and power forward, but he can also play the other three positions.[215] With career averages of 27.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 1.6 steals per game,[39] he is considered one of the most athletic and versatile players in the NBA,[121][216][217] and has been compared to Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan.[31][218] Since 2011, he has been ranked the best player in the NBA by ESPN and Sports Illustrated.[b][c]

Many basketball analysts, coaches, fans, and current and former players consider James to be one of the greatest players of all-time, often ranking him as the best small forward and in the top five overall.[d] He has earned All-NBA honors every season since his sophomore year, All-Defensive honors every season from 2009 to 2014, and was named Rookie of the Year in his debut season.[39] With four MVP awards, he is part of a select group of players who have won the award four times, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Bill Russell; James and Russell are the only two players who have won four MVP awards in a five-year span.[237] While James has never won the Defensive Player of the Year Award, he has finished second in the voting twice and lists it as one of his main goals.[66][238] James has appeared in the Finals eight times and won three championships. Some analysts have criticized him for not having a better Finals record, while others have defended him, arguing that his supporting casts were usually poor and, despite the fact that James had played well, his team was defeated by superior competition.[239][240][241]

Offense

James drives to the basket in March 2008. A deft finisher, he led the NBA in scoring and shooting percentage at the rim in 2013.[242]

Upon entering the NBA, James made an immediate offensive impact, leading the Cavaliers in scoring as a 19-year-old rookie.[243][244] He holds numerous "youngest to" distinctions, including being the youngest player to score 28,000 career points.[e] During his first stint in Cleveland, he was primarily used as an on-ball point forward, and although his shooting tendencies were perimeter-oriented,[121] he established himself as one of the best slashers and finishers in basketball, leading the NBA in three-point plays in 2006.[249] His combination of speed, quickness, and size often created matchup problems for opposing teams as he was capable of blowing by larger defenders and overpowering smaller ones.[250] These qualities became more apparent in transition, where he developed a reputation for grabbing defensive rebounds and then beating the defense downcourt for highlight-quality baskets.[251] Around this time, James was frequently criticized for not having developed a reliable jump shot or post game.[252] Teams would try to exploit these weaknesses by giving him space in the half court and forcing him to settle for three-pointers and long two-pointers, a strategy famously utilized by Spurs coach Greg Popovich in the 2007 Finals, where James converted on only 36 percent of his field goals in four games.[253]

In Miami, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra changed James' role to a more unconventional one.[121] James began spending more time in the post and shooting fewer three-pointers, attempting a career-low 149 in 2012.[39][121] He improved his shot selection and accuracy on jump shots, finishing second in the league in catch-and-shoot field goal percentage in 2013.[254] He also learned how to work as an off-ball cutter in the Heat's "pass-happy" offense.[255] Behind these improvements, James' overall scoring efficiency rose to historically-great levels,[256] peaking in 2014 when he registered a 64.9 true shooting percentage.[39] During this period, ESPN's Tom Haberstroh called James' free throw shooting his biggest weakness, describing it as "average".[257] Upon returning to the Cavaliers, James began to experience subtle age-related declines in productivity,[258] posting his lowest scoring averages since his rookie season in 2015 and 2016.[39][259] His shooting also temporarily regressed, and he briefly ranked as the worst high-volume outside shooter from outside the paint in the NBA.[260] Despite these changes, he has remained an elite offensive player who is capable of beating defenses with body control, strength, and varying attacking speeds.[250]

James' playmaking ability is generally considered to be one of his premier skills, with some analysts ranking him among the greatest passers in NBA history.[261] He is the only frontcourt player in league history to register over 7,000 career assists.[262] Using his size, vision, and the attention he garners from opposing defenses to his advantage,[263] James is able to create easy points for his teammates with accurate assists, manufacturing a league leading 2.6 three-pointers per game by way of his passing alone in 2013.[264] He will often execute passes that would normally be considered unconventional, including passes after leaving his feet and passes through defensive traffic.[265] His uncanny tendency to find the open man played a significant role in the evolution of modern NBA defenses, forcing teams to incorporate some elements of zone into their schemes to better cover the weak side of the court and prevent James from passing to open shooters.[250]

Early in James' career, he was criticized by the media for his play in pressure situations; specifically, for passing instead of shooting in the waning seconds of close games.[266][267] In a 2011 interview, teammate Chris Bosh stated that he would rather have Dwyane Wade take a last-second shot than James.[268] Later in James' career, his clutch play was viewed more favorably; for example, a 2011 article by Henry Abbott revealed that James had a better shooting percentage with the game on the line than such notables as Ray Allen and Kobe Bryant.[269] In 2015, FiveThirtyEight wrote that he might be "the most clutch playoff shooter of his generation".[270]

Defense

At the beginning of James' career, he was considered a poor defensive player,[271] but he improved steadily through the years. Near the end of his first tenure in Cleveland, he became proficient at the chase-down block; coming in from behind the opposition in transition to block their shot.[65] In Miami, he developed into a more versatile defender, and the Heat relied on him to guard all five positions.[272] Paired with teammates Shane Battier and Dwyane Wade, Miami used James in an ultra-aggressive defensive scheme,[273] with James cheating off the ball to help out inside or get into rebounding position.[274] Beginning in 2014, some analysts noted a regression in his defensive impact, stemming from a lack of effort and expected age-related declines.[275][276] James himself admitted to taking plays off at times, referring to this approach as "chill mode".[277] Writing for ESPN in 2016, Nate Duncan observed that while James tended to take off more plays than in his younger days, he was able to raise his level in that year's Finals and temporarily recapture his Miami form.[278]

Off the court

James and then Heat teammate Dwyane Wade tape a public service announcement with United States First Lady Michelle Obama in January 2014.

James proposed to Savannah Brinson, his high school sweetheart, on December 31, 2011 at a party celebrating New Year's Eve and his 27th birthday.[279] The two were married on September 14, 2013 in San Diego.[280] Together, they have three children: LeBron James Jr. (b. 2004),[281] Bryce Maximus James (b. 2007),[282] and Zhuri James (b. 2014).[283] During his tenure with the Heat, James resided in Coconut Grove, an affluent Miami neighborhood, where he bought a three-story mansion overlooking Biscayne Bay for $9 million.[284] In November 2015, James bought a 9,350 square-feet East Coast–style mansion in Brentwood, Los Angeles for about $21 million.[285]

James is an active supporter of the Boys & Girls Club of America, Children's Defense Fund, and ONEXONE.[286] He also has his own charity foundation, the LeBron James Family Foundation, which is based in Akron.[287] Since 2005, the foundation has held an annual bike-a-thon in Akron to raise money for various causes.[288] In 2015, James announced a partnership with the University of Akron to provide scholarships for as many as 2,300 children beginning in 2021.[289] In 2016, he donated $2.5 million to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to support an exhibit about Muhammad Ali.[290] In 2017, he received the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award from the NBA for his "outstanding service and dedication to the community".[291]

Business interests

James is represented by agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports.[292] His first agent was Aaron Goodwin, whom he left in 2005 for Leon Rose. Rose joined Creative Artists Agency (CAA) in 2007, and he worked with fellow CAA agent Henry Thomas, who represented Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, to bring James to Miami in 2010. James left CAA for Paul in 2012.[293] James, Paul, Maverick Carter, and Randy Mims—all childhood friends—formed agent and sports-marketing company LRMR after James left Goodwin. LRMR handles James' marketing, including the marketing of The Decision, for which it was criticized.[294][295]

Throughout his career, James has taken a unique approach to his playing contracts, usually opting to sign shorter term deals in order to maximize his earnings potential and flexibility;[296][107][297] for example, in 2006, he and the Cavaliers negotiated a three-year, $60 million contract extension instead of the four-year maximum as it allotted him the option of seeking a new contract worth more money as an unrestricted free agent following the 2010 season.[298] This move ultimately allowed James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh to sign with the Heat together.[299] During his second stint in Cleveland, he began opting out and re-signing on new contracts after each season in order to take advantage of higher salaries resulting from the NBA's rising salary cap.[162][300][301][302] In 2016, he signed with the Cavaliers on a three-year deal,[303] becoming the highest-paid player in the league for the first time in his career.[304]

James has numerous endorsement contracts; some of the companies he does business with are Audemars Piguet,[305] Coca-Cola,[306] Dunkin' Brands,[307] McDonald's,[308] Nike,[306] State Farm,[309] and Samsung.[306] Coming out of high school, he was the target of a three-way bidding war among Nike, Reebok, and Adidas,[310] eventually signing with Nike for approximately $90 million.[311] His signature shoes have performed well for Nike.[312] In 2011, Fenway Sports Group became the sole global marketer of his rights, and as part of the deal, he was granted a minority stake in the English Premier League football club Liverpool FC,[313] who he has claimed his support for.[314] As a result of James' endorsement money and NBA salary, he has been listed as one of the world's highest-paid athletes.[315] In 2013, he surpassed Kobe Bryant as the highest paid basketball player in the world, with earnings of $56.5 million.[316] In 2014, James realized a profit of more than $30 million as part of Apple's acquisition of Beats Electronics; he had originally struck a deal to get a small stake in the company at its inception in exchange for promoting its headphones.[317] In 2015, he was ranked the sixth highest earning sportsperson,[318] and third highest in 2016 (after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi).[319] James has stated that we would like to own an NBA team in the future, albeit in a hands-off capacity.[320]

James, with comedian Jimmy Kimmel, co-hosted the 2007 ESPY Awards.[321] In other comedic pursuits, he hosted the 33rd-season premiere of Saturday Night Live.[322] He has also tried his hand at acting, appearing in a cameo role on the HBO series Entourage.[323] In 2015, he played himself in the Judd Apatow film Trainwreck,[324] receiving positive reviews for his performance.[325] That same year, James' digital video company, Uninterrupted, raised $15.8 million from Warner Bros. Entertainment and Turner Sports to help expand the company's efforts to bring athlete-created content to fans. It is hosted on Bleacher Report and is used by several other athletes including New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.[326]

Along with business partner Maverick Carter, James owns production company SpringHill Entertainment,[327] whose first work was the Lions Gate documentary More Than a Game, released in 2009 and chronicling James' high school years.[328] Series produced by SpringHill include the Disney XD sports documentaries Becoming,[329] Starz sitcom Survivor's Remorse,[330] and animated web series The LeBrons.[331] In 2016, CNBC aired an unscripted series hosted by James called Cleveland Hustles, where four up-and-coming Northern Ohio entrepreneurs will be financed on the condition of revitalizing a neighborhood in Cleveland.[332] In the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, a 60-minute Vince Carter documentary entitled The Carter Effect was executive produced by James and Maverick Carter along with rapper Drake and Future the Prince.[333][334]

Public image

James is considered by many, including his fellow players, to be the "face of the NBA".[335] His opinions have yielded significant influence on important league decisions; for example, in 2014 he asked commissioner Adam Silver to increase the duration of the All-Star break, and the request was granted the following season.[336] On February 13, 2015, James was elected the first Vice President of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA).[337]

Throughout his career, James has been ranked by Forbes as one of the world's most influential athletes,[338][339] and in 2017, he was listed as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time.[340] During his first stint with the Cavaliers, he was adored by local fans, with Sherwin-Williams displaying a giant Nike-produced banner of James on its world headquarters.[341] Despite their affection for James, Cleveland fans and critics were frequently annoyed when he attended Cleveland Indians games against the New York Yankees sporting a Yankees hat.[342] Following his actions during the 2010 free agency period and, more specifically, The Decision, he was listed as one of the world's most disliked athletes.[343] By 2013, his image had mostly recovered and he was reported by ESPN as the most popular player in the NBA for the second time in his career.[344] In 2014, he was named the most popular male athlete in America by the Harris Poll.[345] He has led the league in jersey sales six times.[346]

The WWI Destroy This Mad Brute poster and the April 2008 Vogue cover with James and Gisele Bündchen, which critics said referenced the earlier poster.[347][348]

In March 2008, James became the first black man—and third man overall after Richard Gere and George Clooney—to appear on the cover of Vogue, posing with Gisele Bündchen.[349] Some sports bloggers and columnists considered the cover offensive, describing the demeanor of James and his holding Bündchen as a reference to classic imagery of the movie monster King Kong, a dark savage capturing his light-skinned love interest.[347][348]

James has taken stances on controversial issues throughout his career, mentioning on several occasions a feeling of obligation to effect change using his status.[350] Those include the War in Darfur,[351][352][353][354] the Trayvon Martin case,[355] the now-former NBA owner Donald Sterling's racist comments in 2014,[350] the Michael Brown verdict,[356] and the death of Eric Garner.[357] Following a racist incident at his Los Angeles home in 2017, James stated, "being black in America is tough. We got a long way to go for us as a society and for us as African Americans until we feel equal in America."[358] Later on that same year, in the aftermath of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, James questioned President Donald Trump's Make America Great Again slogan by stating "It's sad what's going on in Charlottesville. Is this the direction our country is heading? Make America Great Again huh? He said that" and "Our youth deserve better!!"[359]

In June 2008, James donated $20,000 to a committee to elect Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.[360] Later that year, James gathered almost 20,000 people at the Quicken Loans Arena for a viewing of Obama's 30-minute American Stories, American Solutions television advertisement.[361] It was shown on a large screen above the stage, where Jay-Z later held a free concert.[361] James later publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential election.[362]

NBA career statistics

Legend
  GP Games played   GS  Games started  MPG  Minutes per game
 FG%  Field goal percentage  3P%  3-point field goal percentage  FT%  Free throw percentage
 RPG  Rebounds per game  APG  Assists per game  SPG  Steals per game
 BPG  Blocks per game  PPG  Points per game  Bold  Career high
Denotes seasons in which James won an NBA championship
* Led the league

Regular season

Year Team GP GS MPG FG% 3P% FT% RPG APG SPG BPG PPG
2003–04 Cleveland 79 79 39.5 .417 .290 .754 5.5 5.9 1.6 .7 20.9
2004–05 Cleveland 80 80 42.4* .472 .351 .750 7.4 7.2 2.2 .7 27.2
2005–06 Cleveland 79 79 42.5 .480 .335 .738 7.0 6.6 1.6 .8 31.4
2006–07 Cleveland 78 78 40.9 .476 .319 .698 6.7 6.0 1.6 .7 27.3
2007–08 Cleveland 75 74 40.4 .484 .315 .712 7.9 7.2 1.8 1.1 30.0*
2008–09 Cleveland 81 81 37.7 .489 .344 .780 7.6 7.2 1.7 1.1 28.4
2009–10 Cleveland 76 76 39.0 .503 .333 .767 7.3 8.6 1.6 1.0 29.7
2010–11 Miami 79 79 38.8 .510 .330 .759 7.5 7.0 1.6 .6 26.7
2011–12 Miami 62 62 37.5 .531 .362 .771 7.9 6.2 1.9 .8 27.1
2012–13 Miami 76 76 37.9 .565 .406 .753 8.0 7.3 1.7 .9 26.8
2013–14 Miami 77 77 37.7 .567 .379 .750 6.9 6.4 1.6 .3 27.1
2014–15 Cleveland 69 69 36.1 .488 .354 .710 6.0 7.4 1.6 .7 25.3
2015–16 Cleveland 76 76 35.6 .520 .309 .731 7.4 6.8 1.4 .6 25.3
2016–17 Cleveland 74 74 37.8* .548 .363 .674 8.6 8.7 1.2 .6 26.4
Career 1,061 1,060 38.9 .501 .342 .740 7.3 7.0 1.6 .8 27.1
All-Star 13 13 29.4 .518 .344 .735 6.0 5.8 1.3 .2 24.2

Playoffs

Year Team GP GS MPG FG% 3P% FT% RPG APG SPG BPG PPG
2006 Cleveland 13 13 46.5 .476 .333 .737 8.1 5.8 1.4 .7 30.8
2007 Cleveland 20 20 44.7 .416 .280 .755 8.1 8.0 1.7 .5 25.1
2008 Cleveland 13 13 42.5 .411 .257 .731 7.8 7.6 1.8 1.3 28.2
2009 Cleveland 14 14 41.4 .510 .333 .749 9.1 7.3 1.6 .9 35.3
2010 Cleveland 11 11 41.8 .502 .400 .733 9.3 7.6 1.7 1.8 29.1
2011 Miami 21 21 43.9 .466 .353 .763 8.4 5.9 1.7 1.2 23.7
2012 Miami 23 23 42.7 .500 .259 .739 9.7 5.6 1.9 .7 30.3
2013 Miami 23 23 41.7 .491 .375 .777 8.4 6.6 1.8 .8 25.9
2014 Miami 20 20 38.2 .565 .407 .806 7.1 4.8 1.9 .6 27.4
2015 Cleveland 20 20 42.2 .417 .227 .731 11.3 8.5 1.7 1.1 30.1
2016 Cleveland 21 21 39.1 .525 .340 .661 9.5 7.6 2.3 1.3 26.3
2017 Cleveland 18 18 41.3 .565 .411 .698 9.1 7.8 1.9 1.3 32.8
Career 217 217 42.1 .485 .330 .742 8.9 6.9 1.8 1.0 28.4

Awards and honors

James (center) celebrates during the Heat's 2012 championship parade.
NBA[39]
National team[363]
High school[6]
Other

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Assists were recorded as an official Olympic statistic starting in 1976.[211]
  2. ^ ESPN.[219][220][221][222][223]
  3. ^ Sports Illustrated.[224][225][226][227]
  4. ^ [228][229][230][231][232][233][234][235][236]
  5. ^ [7][31][38][245][246][247][248]

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Further reading

External links