LeBron James, What a Year! (Part II)

In our second of four parts examining the legend that is LeBron, we look back to last November's Ohio state hoop finals and move through the winter, spring and summer to see what the teenager endured to make it to this point, the eve of his senior campaign.

PART II: A Season of Speedbumps

Tellingly, the area "King James,"—the title plastered on some of his t-shirts—may be showing the most reaction to the crescendoing attention is on the court.

LeBron is a year more experienced, naturally, as he has worked and hung out with his soon-to-be NBA peers, players like Antoine Walker, a close personal friend. Shaq made an appearance at one of James game and made an official proclamation: "He told the media," James says humbly, but proudly, ‘LeBron is a complete player and if he keeps working he'll be one of the greatest.'"

And perhaps most significantly, he's been privy to the private workouts of His Royal Airness, Michael Jordan—all before James' senior prom. No doubt, getting pointers from the world's elite in his profession has only have helped his game, but has it made him more impatient with the tediousness of the high school game?

"I think it would be hard to keep things in perspective as a 18-year-old kid," says Bill Livingston, a columnist for the Cleveland Plain-Dealer who has followed James career.

"We've done a story saying he's brought a million dollars to his school. All the games are sold out and many they're playing in arenas. Gund Arena drew over 20,000 for a semifinal playoff game Lebron and his team were in.

"I think he's become a little more angry with the refs, a little more of a showboat. One former D-I player, who's a prominent AAU coach, said he thought LeBron had regressed from his sophomore to junior year. Last year he complained more and didn't play as hard on defense. He seems like he gets more upset by on-court stuff and his demeanor isn't as stoic as it was earlier in his career."

If James is more testy on the hoop floor, an examination of some high-profile incidents over the last six months makes it not only more understandable, but actually surprising he hasn't become a full-blown headcase:

*** In March, coming off two Ohio state titles, St. Vincent-St. Mary was expected to again take the Div. II Ohio crown, but trailing 66-63 with 22 seconds left in the game to Roger Bacon James passed up a 25 foot shot to dish the ball to a teammate. A three-point attempt glanced off the rim and the Irish lost 71-63, failing to take the state crown for the first time in James' high school tenure.

"For us to have gotten that far really surprised me," the senior admits. "Our team chemistry was really bad and it was the first year we really had problems on and off the court. Last year, it felt like a chain got broke, with a coach leave and a new coach come in. This year will be different and we're doing a lot better."

And regrets for not taking the shots? "Of course," he says, "nine out of 10 times I'll take that shot, but last year, no excuses, I had a back problems in the state championship and still was able to score 32 points. Still, I thought I played well and a couple more shots and defensive stops and we could have won it."

*** In May, James innocently played in some pickup games at Gund Arena, the Cavaliers home gym, but because the action included Cavs players and coach John Lucas was there watching, the NBA team was fined $150,000 and Lucas was suspended for two games.

Games such as these, however, are commonplace and many wondered why the NBA treated this situation so harshly when James had worked out with Michael Jordan in the summer of 2001when the then part-owner of the Wizards was making a comeback.

"I think it was because it was at the Gund, it was an issue," James explains. "If it had been at a local gym and he (Lucas) had walked in, it wouldn't have mattered."

*** In June, Eddie Jackson, a longtime family friend referred to as LeBron's "stepfather" by Gloria James and considered as "Dad" by the basketball star, was accused of federal fraud charges. The situation has yet to be resolved but could involve jail time for the man now involved in all of LeBron's major decisions.

Gloria James made it clear that her son wouldn't be allowed to discuss the situation, saying, "This has nothing to do with LeBron," she said softly. "It hasn't been resolved yet and we want to keep it a family matter."

Still, the legal problems were, no doubt, a worrisome distraction to the teenager, but may have have one silver lining: it has tightened the insulated core around the teenager.

"There's a tight bond there," Vaccaro explains of the two adults and teenager. "They have been there his whole life and he (LeBron) will never leave them."

"Anyone you love is part of your family," explains second-year St. Vincent-St. Mary head coach Dru Joyce II. "If they run into that situation, you are sure to be down. But LeBron isn't going to let that affect him negatively as he goes and plays. (Eddie) wouldn't want him to do anything else but that. His dad will deal with that. That's how he has counseled LeBron.

Is LeBron walking around (sad)? No. He is walking around with expectations of having a great season."

*** Also in June, James attempted a thundering dunk at an AAU tournament in Chicago, but at the last second an opponent slid over and under him, causing James to land awkwardly on his back, breaking his right wrist. The injury forced him to miss all the summer camps which may have been a blessing in disguise according to Telep.

"From a basketball standout, it set him back, but the positive was it kept guys on the high school scene from going after him to get a reputation and it also ended his football career, where he could have been hurt also."

It also scared the bejeebees out of LeBron, who had to shut down his game for six weeks. "It's still only about 80 percent," he admits. "I'm doing therapy to get it back."

The awful shadow of a career-ending injury forced the family to take out an insurance policy from Lloyds of London, although Gloria James politically dodges what the terms are.

"LeBron was the first high school athlete to get an insurance policy with them," is as much as she will say.

Tomorrow: losses, injuries, controversies and personal problems mostly behind him, LeBron looks ahead to what should be an amazing 2003…

Note: this article is the cover story in the latest issue of Student Sports Magazine which also has the preseason FAB basketball rankings and more hoop news... Click here to get Student Sports Magazine

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