This isn't bad journalism really, but I thought it was a pretty fun read and a great example of how much the NBA can change in 10 years. This article is also a good example of those who leech themselves to young high school stars in the hopes for a payday down the line. Somehow I stumbled upon an ESPN the Magazine "Next" issue with a column about then high school junior LeBron James. It was written by Tom Friend and it partially shows the dark side of high school celebrity and has a few Antoine Walker mentions, which is just fantastic. Friend spends some time with LeBron and I get the feeling pretty much everyone was using "Bron Bron" back in the day for their own purposes.
There's this boy/man/narcissist out there, impersonating an NBA player,
except he's 17 and still subject to a Catholic high school dress code. He lives in a two-bedroom Akron apartment, with an Ann Iverson clone
At the time "Ann Iverson clone" was code for "over-exuberant parent who the television cameras constantly show as she cheers for her golden ticket to keep performing well on the court."
Got like 50 pictures of MJ on my wall -- that's all you need to know about me," the phenom says. "Got Iverson, McGrady, Magic and Kobe on there, too. And myself. I'm on my wall
Clearly LeBron's ego was in full force at a very young age.
He goes out in public reluctantly, with a Celtics cap tugged low over his eyes
So LeBron is a big fan of Michael Jordan who plays for the Bulls, Allen Iverson who played for the 76ers, Tracy McGrady who played for the Magic and Magic/Kobe who played for the Lakers. Yet, he goes out in public wearing a Celtics cap? I don't think I'll ever understand this.
He's got a two-way pager on one hip and two cell phones on the other -
A pager! Welcome to 2002, everyone!
because he never knows when Antoine Walker might call
What's funny about this is now NBA players don't keep a cell phone on their hip because they are AFRAID Antoine Walker might call.
"Yo Bron, can I get some money? I'll hit you right back as soon as I get paid. Just a few bucks for the next week."
"Shoot, we were at Applebee's one day
And Antoine Walker was your server? He gave you your food (half-eaten by Antoine of course) and then did a shimmy back to the kitchen?
and Antoine Walker did call," says a buddy named Frankie Jr. "And he put him on hold. How can you put Antoine Walker on hold?"
In 2014, it's quite easy and probably preferable to put Antoine Walker on hold.
His home games are on pay-per-view for $7.95 a pop in 14 Ohio counties,
and a Dec. 12 matchup with national power Oak Hill was scooped up by
ESPN2. "I hope Kobe watches," the kid says. He wanted Dickie V to
do the broadcast -- because it's not like he'll be playing on Big
Monday next season -- but there are more important things to worry
I vividly remember this game and I also vividly remember watching this game on mute because Dick Vitale was calling the game.
He needs to pick a sneaker company, insure his body for at least 5 mil
and cross his fingers that the judge goes easy on his surrogate father.
I know how it can be to have to pick a sneaker company while hoping the judge goes easy on my surrogate father. It's like, "Should I do sneaker research in the court room or would that hurt my body I just insured for $5 million?"
Not since Lew Alcindor has a high school senior been hoisted this
high over the bean stalk, and there's an entire basketball public
tripping all over itself in anticipation. Michael calls him "Young
Buck." Shaq is proud to say, "I'm in his Rolodex."
Years later when the Cavs are desperately attempting to appease LeBron and keep him in Cleveland they gave him a late-career, typically overweight Shaq as a present. Even then, Shaq was probably glad to be in LeBron's Rolodex...since I'm sure LeBron has a Rolodex. LeBron probably thinks a Rolodex is a knock-off of a Rolex.
"I mean, it took Kobe three years," says Dru Joyce II, the
God-fearing St. Vincent-St. Mary's mentor who makes James do 10 push-ups
every time he curses. "But everyone expects Bron to go right into the
NBA and dominate. And I'm concerned about the kid."
Yeah, nobody makes LeBron do push-ups these days. He hires people to do push-ups for him.
Not so concerned that he objects to moving most of LeBron's home games
to a college fieldhouse. Not so concerned that he won't accept the free
adidas shoes and uniforms that Sonny Vaccaro sends in bulk. Not so concerned that he won't let LeBron James wear monogrammed "LJ 23" adidas tees, sweats and sneakers.
Ah yes, the dark side of these helpful high school coaches. They are helpful and want to make sure a star high athlete stays grounded but only when it doesn't benefit them. Joyce just wants LeBron to be a good person and be surrounded by as little hyp---wait, are those the free sneakers from Adidas? Joyce ordered the whites ones with the blue stripes and these are blue with white stripes. Send that shit back!
(Joyce does 10 push-ups on LeBron's orders)
The kid has charisma -- "Charisma? He's a damn fool," says his mother,
laughing -- but he's also oblivious to the flaws of his inner circle. An
ex-con is handling his business affairs. Another ex-con wants to tell him he's
his biological father. Even his own mother, Gloria, has been seen trading adidas gear to gain entry to local bingo games
And I wondered why "The Decision" seemed to be handled so poorly. It's hard to remember now, but man, LeBron's mom seemed to really bask in the celebrity of her son didn't she? I mean, giving up free Adidas gear to gain entry to bingo games?
It is no surprise that he already refers to himself in the third person
-- "LeBron stays humble by just being LeBron," he says -- or that he
shouts "King James!" or "You sorry!" after he's dunked on you
Don't dunk on LeBron though, Nike will straight take that tape away so it can't be shown.
It is no surprise that his surrogate dad wants him to play for the
Knicks -- "Mecca, Mecca," the man says; or that the NBA is already
thinking about putting him on the 2004 Olympic team
The same team that became such an embarrassment it changed how USA Basketball went about choosing the players on each team and forced them to call in Coach K to win a gold for them in the next two Olympics. I have no doubt USA Basketball reminded him that he could subtlety use these Olympic basketball players to recruit players to Duke.
"Hey look, it's a picture of Coach K celebrating a gold medal with 12 really good NBA players that I look up to. I can't believe that just happened to be on the wall during my recruiting visit beside the picture of Coach K with Jay-Z and his two gold medals. What a coincidence!"
He doesn't post up yet
This didn't really change until LeBron joined the Heat and realized, "Oh shit, I am stronger and more powerful than the guy guarding me. Perhaps I should get closer to the basket?"
Scouts like that he's a people person, and predict he'll make a better teammate than Kobe
That's like being a faster sprinter than Rebel Wilson.
They say he'll be a distributor as a rookie, a go-to guy by Year 2 and on a Wheaties box by Year 3.
Move all of those projections up one year and that's about right.
He shops at the NBA Store, just gave up soda for spring water,
You mean Vitaminwater? Because according to that article, LeBron had been drinking that stuff since high school.
The real LeBron James gets inundated with free sneakers, so he gives
them away for nothing in the school cafeteria, shouting out trivia
questions like, "Who did we beat in the state playoffs last year?"
Or, "How many bingo cards will this pair of shoes get my mom at this week's big bingo tournament?"
The real LeBron James once got reprimanded by his coach for wearing his
shorts too low, so he pulled them up like Urkel for a week.
This was adorable when LeBron was in high school, but antics like this in the NBA gave morons like Skip Bayless a chance to knock LeBron for all of his perceived shortcomings.
The real LeBron James tells his posse they can live with him for his
entire NBA career -- or at least until he gets married
LeBron didn't get married until this past Fall, so I'm sure his posse got a good decade of free rent in before LeBron didn't kick them out of the house.
"Yep, he gets called Dumbo, Airplane, anything you can come up with," says friend and teammate Sian Cotton.
"We treat him like anyone else. Of course, he says he's gonna get all
of us cars after the NBA draft. Tells us whatever kind of truck we want
we can get."
Yeah, these teammates who want to live off LeBron found out they may get a truck from LeBron, but he can't live their lives for them otherwise.
The best estimate -- or at least what the St. V's program says -- is
that he's 6'8", 240. But like most everything else with LeBron James,
it's an absolute guess. The general public has been hearing about him
for 2 years, ever since he was the nation's No. 1 prep as a sophomore,
but his evolution can be broken down into two stages: pre-6'6" and
LeBron's "evolution" can be better defined as "When LeBron's family and friends realized they can make money off James because he's so tall and good at basketball." Bottom feeders unite!
He had little stability in his early years, because of a father who
never checked in and a mother who scoured the want ads. "When I was 5,
some financial things happened, and I moved seven times in a year,"
LeBron says. "We moved from apartment to apartment, sometimes living
I'm guessing "financial things happened" means LeBron and his mom were poor. But don't worry, we will learn about Gloria James' work ethic in a minute. She was up to do any job, just as long as she didn't have to wake up early in the morning. Not that LeBron was her meal ticket or anything. Not at all.
Her name is Gloria Marie James, and she's a testy, diminutive
woman with a serious set of lungs: "I'm loud, can't help it." She got
pregnant at 16, and it's been just her and her "Bron Bron" ever since.
She says the father was a casual sex partner named Anthony McClelland,
who by now is well-known within the state and county penal systems.
He's been convicted of arson and theft, to name just two of his many
transgressions, and he certainly wasn't the one to help Glo out of her
It's almost like she should have chosen a better casual sex partner. I'm going to tell my kids that all the time. When choosing a casual sex partner, make sure this person won't be in jail and has money so he/she can help you out financially. It's the smart thing to do. Just don't go choosing a casual sex partner lightly, always ask for criminal records and the latest bank statements before agreeing to any casual sex contract.
Glo's always been late to bed, late to rise -- "I ain't into mornings"
Now I can see where LeBron got his work ethic from. I can't help but wonder if the "financial things" were in any way related to Glo's late to bed and late to rise lifestyle she kept?
According to Akron court records, she's been cited over the years for
playing music too loudly, criminal trespassing, contempt of court and
disorderly conduct. It's something she plays down -- "There wasn't any
drugs involved" --
Oh, well then carry on. Nothing to see here.
I'm going to use this reasoning from now on when I didn't do something I was supposed to do to see how far it takes me.
(My boss) "Why did you not show up for work during the month of September?"
(Me) "Well, first off, I don't do mornings anymore. It's just a personal decision I've made."
(My boss) "You didn't show up during the afternoons either. Explain that to me."
(Me) "There wasn't any drugs involved."
(My boss) "That's good to hear. Speaking of hearing good things, do you want a raise?"
but it was never trivial to her son. Out of shame, he stopped going to
elementary school, instead spending his days walking back and forth
between his apartment and the corner store. "In fourth grade, I missed
82 days of school," LeBron says. "Out of 160."
For fear of judging another person's parenting style, I'll just say I bet Gloria doesn't want LeBron to remember this as he hands out nice shit to her now. LeBron doesn't have a very good relationship with his father and his mother should feel lucky that LeBron likes her. I mean, she didn't exactly give him such a stable environment. This article is almost reading like a cautionary tale more than it reads like the introduction from ESPN to the LeBron James success story.
When his coach, Frankie Walker, noticed LeBron didn't return to
school after fourth-grade Christmas break, he quizzed some of the other
parents and learned that Glo was looking to find LeBron a more stable
home. After consulting with his family -- wife Pam and kids Chanelle, Frankie Jr. and Tanesha -- Walker volunteered to take the boy in.
It takes a village, right? I think this phrase is most commonly used by people who want others to take care of their child for them.
"I don't want to give the impression that Glo just dropped LeBron off on
our doorstep," Pam says. "It was important to him and to her that they
maintain their relationship. So, wherever she was staying, he went with
her on the weekend."
Oh, well I don't feel like Gloria just dropped LeBron off at all. When she wasn't busy not taking drugs, sleeping in a little bit and being unable to hold down a steady job she took care of her child. It's a good thing LeBron could play basketball, that's what I think.
From reading this article, I wouldn't think this letter would get written twelve years later.
With Glo, LeBron would go to bed after Jay Leno; with the Walkers, he
had bathrooms to clean and couldn't talk back. He didn't miss one day of
school in fifth grade, and at the end of the year he took home the
school's attendance award. "Best award ever," he says.
Doesn't this read like the cautionary tale of a successful high school athlete who had a shaky upbringing and then wasn't able to make it in the NBA due to having the wrong support system around him? LeBron had all the traditional red flags.
No father in his life (check)
Mother is shaky presence in his life. (check)
A ton of hype around his high school exploits. (check)
"Friends" who surround him and could very well only be looking to ride his fame. (check)
Coaches who care about him, but get their part too. (check)
Yet, 12 years later LeBron wasn't a cautionary tale about what happens when a high school athlete is hyped too much and the bottom feeders close in...not at all.
the Walkers wouldn't hear of it. They had this ritual of baking LeBron a
German chocolate cake on his birthday, and hosting him every Christmas
Eve. And rather than lose him, Pam and one of her friends found Gloria a
And after dominating a series of tournaments, he found himself rated a top-five national prospect.
He also had a certain gleam now, because he and Glo had their own place.
Pam Walker still drove him to school every morning, but after practice
he wanted the gang over to his house now.
Because I'm jaded, I even think the Walkers may have wanted to hitch their wagon to a star...at least just a little bit.
Then, the summer before 10th grade, lightning struck. "I remember
sleeping over at his place," Sian says. "We woke up, got some cereal,
and I'm like, 'You grew two inches last night!' I swear, he grew two
inches overnight! By the end of the summer, the dude was six-six
Six-six three-quarters inches. Exactly.
Glo was in the money now! Her Bron Bron done become a commodity!
The first sign of chaos was when he showed up at St. V's driving a
Navigator. Those weren't his wheels -- they belonged to an ex-con -- and
that's when the negativity kicked in
I mean, now LeBron is driving a car given to him by an ex-con. Again, doesn't this scream "cautionary tale" to you? These hangers-on and people who do favors for LeBron before he was huge (on the premise he would get huge) could easily have dragged him down. It's also disturbing how grown adults attach themselves to these young kids in an effort to make some money or get a favor done (okay, to get money) down the road.
It was hyperbole, of course, but the talk had enough merit that shoe companies, investment firms
and even Shaq needed someone to call as a go-between.
The ex-con, he was that guy. His name is Eddie Jackson, and he'd
been one of Glo's boyfriends from the formative years. When he actually
resurfaced is up for debate, but the LeBron regulars don't recall seeing
him at any AAU games before the eighth grade
I'm going to need flow chart at some point. So Eddie Jackson was one of Glo's boyfriends, while LeBron's dad was a casual sex partner. Now using a Venn diagram did they ever overlap at any point to where Glo outsourced her sexual needs to LeBron's dad while dating Eddie Jackson for her emotional needs (i.e. cash money)?
Oh, and it doesn't take long for the hangers-on to show up, does it?
They never saw Glo, either -- "LeBron would look up in the crowd for
her," Frankie Sr. says -- but from eighth grade on, Eddie and Glo never
missed a free throw.
"What, I knew he was gonna be an NBA prospect in the eighth grade?" Eddie says. "Come on. That's hideous."
Exactly. Why show interest in LeBron if you don't know he will be an NBA prospect? It's hideous to know LeBron is an NBA prospect in the 8th grade and attend his games to support him. What's the point of being at the game if there isn't anything in it for you?
And if Eddie hadn't already done 27 months for drug trafficking in the
early '90s, his presence might have been more palatable.
So Eddie would have been there earlier to bottom-feed and take advantage of LeBron, but he was just in jail? There was drugs involved too, so I'm sure Gloria did the best she could to keep Eddie away from LeBron.
But he showed
up at the Walkers' one Christmas Eve to give LeBron a PlayStation 2, and
as the teen grew past 6'6", the gifts grew too. Last year's whopper was
a '95 Ford Explorer.
"Absolutely, I gave him the car," says Eddie, now a concert promoter and
a drug-and-alcohol prevention counselor. "When you got a kid that's a
3.0 student and dominating the country in basketball, you get him
whatever the hell he wants."
It seems Eddie stayed away from drugs and alcohol, at least until February 2014, but made up for his lack of being arrested by getting involved with a mortgage scam. But there wasn't no drugs involved, so I'm sure Gloria had no issue with Eddie showering LeBron with gifts.
This was the world LeBron had to somehow make sense of, and he began to
confide more in Eddie than in folks like the Walkers. He asked Eddie to
join Gloria as his financial adviser, and began calling Eddie Dad
LeBron turned out to be a success, but this still has all the makings of a disaster doesn't it?
But the battle for custody of LeBron's size-15 feet was only just beginning. Nike's George Raveling
will be glad to know that James wears Air Force Ones in practice and
once switched from adidas to Nike at halftime of a bad shooting night
Hey, Air Force Ones. Remember Nelly?
When a reporter asked Glo if LeBron would consider skipping his senior
year, she chirped, "Who wouldn't?" By now she had become the town's
unofficial loose cannon. She'd attend games in a "LeBron's Mom" jersey,
shouting, "Yeah, baby, we going to the bank,"
This is LeBron's mom. How in the hell he turned out to be the kind of person he is I won't understand. It's always inspiring to hear about a parent using their child as a future personal ATM and attempting to bask in the spotlight of that child's talent.
and rushing the court whenever an opponent low-bridged her son.
Gotta protect that investment. All that nice shit Glo wants isn't going to pay for itself and getting a job that involves waking up early if LeBron don't make the NBA isn't an option either.
With the fire marshal worrying about SRO crowds, most of LeBron's games
were moved to the U. of Akron's 6,000-seat JAR Arena last season. The
town just couldn't get enough of his 37-inch vertical and his topspin
passes, and the kid was turned into a cash cow. The school has
reportedly earned $200,000 to $300,000 by playing the larger venue, more
than enough to buy a new sound system for its matchbox gym. "Who paid
for that sound system?" Glo growls. "Bron did. And do you know they want
him to pay almost $40 a year to park at school? Let me get out of this
school before I get nasty."
$40 a year to park at the school? Some things just aren't fair at all. If high school athletes can't preferential treatment while getting placed in the spotlight to where that athlete will eventually make millions then that's not a world I care to be a part of.
It was inevitable, but Glo says LeBron's biological dad wants back in.
Problem is, McClelland has been found guilty of theft five times and
just got arrested for theft again on Nov. 12. LeBron is vetoing any
meetings. "I keep that somewhere far, far away," he says.
Shit, he can't get back in now. Glo has spent a lot of time protecting her investment and then LeBron's dad wants to come back in and exercise his parental rights? No way. If you can't take the time to use Le---to raise LeBro---to hand LeBron off to another family then you don't deserve to be a part of his life.
LeBron's dad still isn't in his life by the way.
Though the Big Fella gave him a thumbs up, he was nowhere near as
intrigued as the Cavs' Lucas, who had worked out Kobe in high school and
had long itched to see LeBron. "I kept hearing he was better than
Kobe," Lucas says. "So I went to see him play at an AAU tournament and
stayed 11 hours. Stayed 11 hours looking for a weakness
Then the Cavs fired John Lucas as the head coach before he could ever coach LeBron.
Last spring, Lucas invited James to an informal Cavs workout, then watched him dunk on Jumaine Jones and jam backward over Chris Mihm
Dunking on Jumaine Jones and Chris Mihm. Welcome to the club on that one.
But it was the kid's point guard skills that floored the coach, so much
so that Lucas has no regrets about the two-game suspension and the
$150,000 fine he received for bringing LeBron in
Guy pays $150,000 fine for bringing James in to practice with his team, then the Cavs fire him before he can actually coach LeBron. Also, it isn't hard to see why the Cavaliers fans were so pissed that LeBron took his talents to South Beach once he became a free agent. He was a homegrown star and the Cavs had invested in him pretty early in his high school career.
And then, thankfully, came a dose of reality. At a summer AAU game in
Chicago, LeBron was undercut on a dunk and broke his left wrist. Pros
like Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson were in the
stands, but left as soon as they saw the kid weeping in Glo's arms. "I
was like, 'Why me?' " James says. "I hear 'broken,' and I'm thinking I'm
out a year, two years."
Clearly, that 3.2 GPA LeBron was sporting in high school didn't include a class on anatomy or any basic medical education. Such as, it doesn't take two years to recover from a broken bone.
At the time, Eddie was facing prison again (his sentencing for mortgage
fraud was scheduled for Dec.11), and LeBron started re-evaluating. It
wasn't his fault everybody around him had their calculators out. He
nearly broke his neck when he tore down a rickety rim in Stow, Ohio, a
month ago, but when the Stow athletic director wouldn't let Eddie have
the rim as a momento, Jackson yelped, "We'll sue you then!"
That's just Dad, always looking out for his Bron Bron.
Glo chimed, "Sue, baby, sue! It'll be a sweeeeet Christmas."
This is a very heartwarming story to hear.
So the AD said, "I'll give it to you for six autographed basketballs,"
at which point Glo told him, "You probably want six [favors] instead."
And quite frankly, the only one who gets favors is Glo and Eddie. How is Glo going to get into those bingo games if Bron Bron spends all his time autographing shit for other people?
"People ask me if it's a hard decision going to the NBA, but I've made
harder decisions," he says. "Decisions about smoking or going to school,
or stealing from a store or not stealing. Those are harder decisions.
Yeah, I smoked weed. When it's around family, around friends, of course
you want to try it. I tried it a couple of times. But when you get on
the court and your wind ain't there, that's when you've got to just stop
Again, very heartwarming to hear it's around family. Let me think about which family member was using these drugs.
(Puts on sarcasm hat) It couldn't be Eddie because he's a drug and alcohol counselor now and would never use drugs. It couldn't be the Walkers because they were kind enough to take him in. It couldn't be LeBron's dad because he has no relationship with his dad. And we all know from the "Mommie Dearest" stories and the fact Glo ain't been arrested on no drug thing that she would NEVER use drugs. Besides, she's so level-headed any drug use on her part seems impossible.
It's a side of Bron Bron nobody has really seen since … before he was
6'6". Maybe he's finally growing up, maybe not. But when asked by
friends what he wants for his 18th birthday later this month, LeBron
James doesn't flinch.
He wants German chocolate cake. At the Walkers'.
But he better not think about signing anything. The only ones who can use LeBron are close family. Close real family.
This article appears in the Dec. 23 issue of ESPN The Magazine. You can watch LeBron in action Thursday Dec. 12 on ESPN2 -- followed by NEXT -- at 9 p.m. ET.
After publishing a column that partially shows how people around him are taking advantage of LeBron and exploiting him for their own financial gain, ESPN decides they wanted in on the action and will exploit LeBron for their own financial gain. You have to love ESPN that way.