Here now, a reprint of my classic Lebron column from high school. That's right folks - I was in high school at the same time as Lebron. He's more than a full year my senior.
This means that, with me at 20 years and 10 months, I still have an outside shot of getting Lebron James to buy me beer. I admit it's unlikely, but Lebron can let me know if he's free. Or at least Scott Pollard.
I'm re-posting this because it's interesting for me to look back at how I used to write. This would've been my third or fourth column, probably, and other than the writing and the jokes, I kind of like it. I'm also proud of this column because - although I think I still won the award - the column was criticized at my state journalism conference for being "too hip." That's what happens when you live in North Dakota and you print the words "street cred."
If you want the fresh stuff, feel free to scroll down past this.
I am not Lebron James
He's in high school. I'm in high school.
He drives a chromed-out silver Hummer valued at $55,000. I drive a dirty cream-colored '88 Ford Tempo that hums, valued at $55.
He's been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. I'm a subscriber.
He has a strict no-autographs-in-school policy. So do I.
His is by choice.
If you haven't figured it out, the "he" in question is Lebron James--that's 'Bron or Bronnie if you're on his short list (as Shaq and Michael Jordan are) and King James if you're not.
James is the next odds-on big thing in basketball. He's 6'7" and 215, all smooth muscle and basketball IQ, with a vertical that makes Kobe green. He's MJ with tats and street cred, and this year he's probably gotten more headlines than the man himself.
This included the recent episode in which James was barred from competition for receiving throwback jerseys as gifts, then reinstated only days later.
Thanks to SI and ESPN the magazine covers and the "can't-miss" scouting reports, James has become a household name--and he hasn't even been in most households. St. Vincent-St. Mary's, a prep school in Ohio, did play a couple of games on ESPN 2, and others have been featured on Pay-Per-View.
Did I mention he's 17?
People have a problem with this. They say the way his ego is being coddled and stroked by pundits and scouts and fans is bad. It reflects poorly on society. We're putting too much pressure on the kid.
No, it may not be the best scenario for a young man like James to be glorified before he can buy a pack of smokes and vote. He was brought up without a real father figure, and people think that will hurt him when he's faced with fame's excess of women and drugs and opportunities for self-destruction. (See: Len Bias.)
But if people think that instant fame is going to be a bad thing for Lebron, they need to take a second look at the context in which he's succeeding. His game is more than a window out of the projects: It's an elevator to a window to a rocket launcher out of the projects. This is a kid whose family gets by on welfare checks, whose dad split too soon to mean much, whose chances are limited by the color of his skin.
Where would Lebron be without his game?
Imagine if Lebron grew up in Wilton, and Rich Hovland recruited him to come play for us. Bismarck would become a hoops hotbed--we'd probably be though of as having Canada's best basketball program.
Would you question the morality of Lebron's exploitation if he was from Bismarck? Or would you buy a ticket every Friday?
I don't blame the NBA and its coaches and scouts for Lebron's early stardom, either. It's their job to find the best possible players and put the ball in their hands, regardless of age and even honorability. When I watch a pro game, I think "Are these the best 10 basketball players that these teams could find for me?", not, "What can my child learn from a man like Rasheed Wallace?"
The best indication I have that his head is in the right place is that we've seen his love for the game and competition--the one aspect that set Larry, and then Michael, and now Kobe above the rest of their class.
When Lebron got nailed with the free throwbacks, he could've let it stand. He could've signed a $25 million contract with Nike the next day and started making commercials in time for the All-Star game.
Instead he worked to be reinstated by the Ohio athletic commission, and came away with a slap on the wrist and a new lease on his amateur career.
Two nights later, Lebron reminded everyone why they really care and dropped a highlight reel 52, once more a man among boys.
Thank God. We were starting to lose sight of what this was all about--a kid and his game.