It was fitting last weekend that when one 23 was setting the all-time points record in his All-Star game swan song, another 23 showed the world that maybe one day he will break that mark.
LeBron James flies through the air in the manner of his Airness, zips passes through the lane with the precision of Stockton and has shown the ability to display the three-point stroke of Larry Bird. It is no wonder that James is receiving more media attention than Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady did in high school combined.
Never before has a high school player had his games aired on ESPN with Dick Vitale and Bill Walton behind the telestrator, which incidentally gave the cable channel its highest ratings in three years. Never before has a high school player sold out arenas such as the Charlotte Coliseum, which only filled up half of its seats for NBA contests a year ago. Never before has an 18-year-old garnered a bidding war for a potential $20 million dollar a year sneaker contract between Nike and Adidas.
In the past two weeks alone, James nearly got suspended for accepting a $50,000 Hummer, then lost his eligibility for accepting two jerseys worth $850, and finally had his year-long suspension reduced to two games by a federal judge.
Each day as a new story developed in the James fiasco, the news made top headlines on Sportscenter.
Tickets for James’ well-publicized return last Saturday night were reportedly going for $2,500 a piece from scalpers. Once the game finished the biggest story afterwards was not that James torched Westchester High in Los Angeles with 52 points, but that the star from St Vincent’s-St. Mary’s posed for a picture with the game’s referee seconds after the game.
St. Vincent’s-St. Mary’s angered by the extensive media coverage given to James’ games, have decided to refuse ESPN’s offer to televise James’ final regular season game on Sunday.
“We were receiving some bad press from ESPN and from other media sources,” athletic director Grant Innocenzi said Wednesday. “We’re at the point that enough is enough. It’s that simple.”
If James is the top story on Sportscenter practically every night now, imagine the pressure the 18-year-old will face once he turns pro.
The worst teams in the league right now are even planning on “not playing their hardest” at the end of the season to get in position to draft James with the first pick next season. ESPN.com is even currently displaying a LeBron lottery to show the potential benefits that he will bring to each team that would be in the lottery if the season ended today. James’ impact has been felt nationwide, and it is hard to believe that any single player can live up to the enormous hype that curently surrounds the high school senior.
It is important for fans to remember that even if James one day becomes better than Jordan, that he won’t be a savior overnight. Kevin Garnett averaged less than ten points in his rookie season. Kobe Bryant didn’t even crack the Lakers’ starting lineup in his first couple seasons and his playoff performances were marred by mistimed turnovers and airballs in crucial situation down the stretch versus the Jazz.
For three years Tracy McGrady was labeled as a bust as he was buried on the bench of the Toronto Raptors. Now all three, are guaranteed hall of famers and are arguably the three best players in the game.Tyson Chandler, who recently was drafted by the Bulls straight out of high school, feels that the transition from high school to the NBA is more difficult than the average fan believes and is made harder by the intense expectations provided by the media.
“When you’re publicized like I was and LeBron is, people play you a little differently. When you come into the league, you’re already known,” Chandler said. “When I came into the league, everybody wanted to prove that everybody was wrong about the potential they said I had. People wanted to go hard at it.”
Rookie classmates Kwame Brown and Eddie Curry were top-5 draft picks as well, and all have struggled to adapt to the everyday lifestyle of a professional basketball player.
The most important skill that James has developed this year has not come on the basketball court. His ability to block out the 24/7 attention he has received from the media will pay important dividends in the years to come.
Even if James suffers some initial growing pains in his first few years in the league, the way he is performing on and off the court this year indicates that his career will wind up more like Michael Jordan’s than another NBA star to come straight from high school — Shawn Kemp.
Rybaltowski can be reached at email@example.com.