In the 80s it was Magic Johnson, the 90's it was Michael Jordan, and today there are a lot of wannabe's, but no clear-cut favorite.
Well, there might be one emerging, who unbelievably is just a junior in high school, LeBron James of St. Vincent-St. Mary's in Ohio. Is certain to bypass college for the NBA? I had the unique opportunity to spend some time talking with the young man at the Slam Dunk to the Beach tournament after his team had just lost a tough game to Amityville and Jason Fraser, 84-83. What I found was a very intelligent, energetic, and thoughtful young man who might not be such a lock to skip college as everyone seems to think.
First of all LeBron, happy birthday. I understand you turned 17 today (Dec. 30, 2001).
It was a great game out there tonight, a close one, tell me about your 3-pointer that seemingly put it away for your team.
Well, when we're down, I always want the ball, you know if I'm shootin' it or passin' it. I knew we needed a big play, so we had to have a 3, there was nothing else we could get, so I kicked it out and got it right back. I was open, shot the 3, it went in and I got fouled.
Well, the kid on Amityville (A.J. Price) got fouled after that and hit his free throws putting you all down by one. Tell me about that last desperation shot to try and win it?
Yea, I thought it was in. It was right on target, it just didn't have enough lift. I mean, you can't say nothing else about it, it didn't go in. That's it.
One of the things I was impressed with about your game is your unselfishness. You are always looking to make the extra pass. Do your coaches ever ask you to be more selfish out there?
Even if the coaches would tell me to maybe take the game over a little bit more, shoot more, I really can't do it. My game is not about that. I'm all about making the extra pass. I've got confidence in my teammates. It's all about the extra pass.
You went up against a great player in Jason Fraser tonight, tell me about that?
Jason Fraser's game speaks for itself, 6-10, big man. I got a lot of respect for him. He made key plays, hit a couple of 3's, it's hard to stop a big man like that, rebounding wise and scoring wise. We did the best we could.
How did you feel, coming off of having the flu? Would you say you were 100 percent?
I don't think I was 100 percent this whole tournament. The first night I came out here, I was tore up, my wind was very bad and tonight I was a lot better, maybe 90 percent, but you really can't think about those things in a big game. I just had to come out and play hard.
What is the symbolism behind hitting yourself in the head with both fists after you make a big play?
That just means "the beast in me." I just feel when I'm out there, no one can guard me.
On a more personal note, what do you like to do outside of basketball?
Hang out with my friends, play video games, that's about it.
How tall are you?
What's your favorite type of music and artists?
Rap and R&B, Jay Z.
What's your favorite food?
Fried chicken ... laughing (when I asked 'is that all,' he replies "yea."
How much time to you spend working on your game?
We have practice everyday for three hours and I spend another hour after practice.
What college teams did you grow up admiring?
(Without hesitation) North Carolina, you know, my mentor is Michael Jordan, that's the number I'm wearing, and I respect his game a lot. North Carolina.
Have you had any conversations with Michael?
Oh, I've not really had any conversations exactly, but I have talked to him, you know, just hi/bye, you know 'how you doing,' stuff like that, just to keep my head on straight.
Looking back how good were you as a freshman?
When I look back, I can say I was pretty decent. I knew I could get a lot better and that's what I did, the next year I got a lot better and now I know that I can't really be stopped. When I'm in the zone that's when I really feel good.
What position do you think you'd play in college or the NBA?
You know, maybe the 1 or 2.
With all the attention, media, etc. is there anyplace you can go internally or externally to get away?
Oh no, there's no way you can get away from it, but they play it cool. Back at home, I know a lot of the media guys, and they're all pretty cool with me, so it's alright.
At this point, why would you even consider college?
Because it's all about the education. You got to have an education after basketball. That's why I'll consider college.
The game seems to come easy for you, playing on the high school level. Do you ever get bored and have to create ways to stay focused?
Naw, you can't get bored, I just have to go out and treat everybody equal. That's why our coaches go out and schedule games like this (Amityville, Oak Hill coming up). Top teams like this so you really can't get bored against teams like this, ‘cause they're on the same level as you are trying to be. I just go out and try and play my hardest.
I must say I was very impressed with LeBron, both on the court and off. He just seems to have that special thing about him, and that's why I don't think colleges should just assume he will go straight to the NBA, as many say he will. He just might surprise everyone.