James played high school basketball at St. Vincent–St. Mary High School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, where he was highly promoted in the national media as a future NBA superstar. After graduating, he was selected with the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Cavaliers. James led Cleveland to the franchise's first NBA Finals appearance in 2007, losing to the San Antonio Spurs in a sweep. In 2010, he left the Cavaliers for the Heat in a highly publicized free agency period. In his first season in Miami, the Heat reached the Finals, but lost to the Dallas Mavericks. James won his first championship in 2012 when Miami defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder, earning the NBA Finals MVP Award for his play. In 2013, the Heat won their second consecutive title and he repeated as Finals MVP. His career achievements and leadership role during the Heat's 2012 and 2013 championship runs have led many basketball analysts, experts, and writers to consider him the best player in the NBA today.
Off the court, James has accumulated considerable wealth and fame as a result of numerous endorsement contracts. His public life has been the subject of much scrutiny, and he has been ranked as one of America's most disliked and influential athletes. He has also been featured in books, documentaries, and television commercials, and has hosted the ESPY Awards and Saturday Night Live.
Childhood and youth
James was born on December 30, 1984 in Akron, Ohio to a 16-year-old mother, Gloria Marie James, who raised LeBron on her own. Growing up, life was often a struggle for LeBron and Gloria, who moved from apartment to apartment in the seedier neighborhoods of Akron while Gloria struggled to find steady work. Realizing he would be better off with a more stable family environment, Gloria allowed LeBron to move in with the family of Frank Walker, a local youth football coach, who introduced LeBron to basketball when LeBron was nine-years-old.
As a youth, James played Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball for the Northeast Ohio Shooting Stars. The team enjoyed success on a local and national level, led by James and his friends Sian Cotton, Dru Joyce III, and Willie McGee. Inseparable, they dubbed themselves the "Fab Four" and promised each other they would attend high school together. In a move that stirred local controversy, they chose to attend St. Vincent–St. Mary High School, a largely white private school, instead of their local public school.
High school career
Basketball In his freshman year, James averaged 21 points and 6 rebounds per game for St. Vincent-St. Mary's varsity team. The Fighting Irish finished the year 27–0, winning the Division III state title. In his sophomore year, James averaged 25.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, while also contributing 5.8 assists and 3.8 steals per game. For some home games during the season, St. Vincent-St. Mary played at the University of Akron's 5,492-seat capacity Rhodes Arena to satisfy ticket demand from alumni, local fans, and college and NBA scouts who wanted to see James play. The Fighting Irish finished the season 26–1 and repeated as state champions. For his outstanding play, James was named Ohio's Mr. Basketball and was selected to the USA Today All-USA First Team, becoming the first ever sophomore to do either.
Prior to the start of James' junior year, he appeared in SLAM Magazine and was lauded as possibly "the best high school basketball player in America right now" by writer Ryan Jones. During the season, he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, becoming the first ever underclass high school basketball player to do so. With averages of 29 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 3.3 steals per game, he was again named Ohio's Mr. Basketball and selected to the USA Today All-USA First Team, and became the first ever junior to win the boys' basketball Gatorade National Player of the Year Award. St. Vincent-St. Mary finished the year with a 23–4 record, ending their season with a loss in the Division II championship game. Following the loss, James seriously considered declaring for the 2002 NBA Draft, unsuccessfully petitioning for an adjustment to the NBA's draft eligibility rules which required prospective players to have at least graduated from high school. During this time, James used marijuana to help cope with stress resulting from the constant media attention he was receiving.
In his senior year, James and the Fighting Irish traveled around the country to play a number of nationally ranked teams, including a game against Oak Hill Academy that was nationally televised on ESPN2.Time Warner Cable, looking to capitalize on James' popularity, offered St. Vincent-St. Mary's games to subscribers on a pay-per-view basis throughout the season. For the year, James averaged 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 3.4 steals per game, was named Ohio's Mr. Basketball and USA Today All-USA First Team for an unprecedented third consecutive year, and Gatorade National Player of the Year for the second consecutive year.He participated in three year-end high school basketball all-star games—the EA Sports Roundball Classic, the Jordan Capital Classic, and the 2003 McDonald's All-American Game—, losing his NCAA eligibility and making it official he would enter the 2003 NBA Draft. According to Ryan Jones, James left high school as "the most hyped basketball player ever".
During his senior year, James was the centerpiece of several controversies. For his 18th birthday, he accepted a Hummer H2 from his mother, who secured a loan for the vehicle utilizing LeBron's future earning power as a professional athlete. This prompted an investigation by the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) as their guidelines state that no amateur may accept any gift valued over $100 as a reward for athletic performance.Later in the season, James accepted two throwback jerseys worth $845 from an urban clothing store in exchange for his posing for pictures, officially violating OHSAA rules and resulting in him being stripped of his high school sports eligibility. James appealed the ruling and his penalty was eventually dropped to a two game suspension, allowing him to play the remainder of the season. The Irish were also forced to forfeit one of their wins, their only official loss that season.
James played wide receiver for St. Vincent-St. Mary's football team in high school. As a sophomore, he was named first-team all-state, and as a junior, he led the Fighting Irish to the state semifinals.His football career came to an end before his senior year when he broke his wrist during an AAU basketball game. Many sports analysts, football critics, high school coaches, and former and current players have speculated on whether he could have played in the National Football League.
James was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. In his first professional game, he recorded 25 points against the Sacramento Kings, setting an NBA record for most points scored by a prep-to-pro player in his debut outing. In a late season match-up with the Brooklyn Nets, he scored a season-high 41 points, becoming the youngest player in league history to score at least 40 points in a game at 19 years. He was eventually named the Rookie of the Year, finishing with averages of 20.9 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game. He became the first Cavalier to receive the honor and joined Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan as the only players in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game in their rookie year (Tyreke Evans has since joined this group). The Cavaliers finished the season 35–4
James recorded his first career triple-double on January 19 of the 2004–05 season, becoming the youngest player in league history to record a triple-double at 20 years. His play earned him his first All-Star Game selection, where he added 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists in a winning effort for the Eastern Conference. On March 20, he scored a career-high 56 points against the Toronto Raptors, setting Cleveland's new single game points record. With averages of 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 2.2 steals per game to finish the season, he became the youngest player in league history to be named to an All-NBA Team, being selected to the All-NBA Second Team. Despite a 30–20 record to start the year, Cleveland again failed to make the playoffs, finishing the season at 42-40.
At the 2006 All-Star Game, James led the East to victory with a 29 point and 6 rebound performance, becoming the youngest ever winner of the All-Star Game MVP Award at 21 years, 51 days. For the season, he averaged 31.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game, becoming the youngest player in league history to average at least 30 points per game. He was considered a strong candidate for the Most Valuable Player Award, but eventually finished second in the voting to Steve Nash; however, he was awarded co-MVP honors with Nash by The Sporting News, and was named to the All-NBA First Team for the first time in his career. Under James' leadership, the Cavaliers qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1998, improving their record by 33 wins from the year before he was drafted. In his playoff debut, he recorded a triple-double in a winning effort versus the Washington Wizards. In Game 3 of the series, he made the first game-winning shot of his career, making another in Game 5. Cleveland would go on to defeat the Wizards before being ousted by the defending Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons in the second round.
After the 2006 Playoffs, James and the Cavaliers negotiated a three-year, $60 million contract extension with a player option for a fourth year. Although it was for fewer years and less money than the maximum he could sign, it allotted him the option of seeking a new contract worth more money as an unrestricted free agent following the 2009–10 season. He discussed this decision with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, fellow members of his 2003 draft class, who also re-signed with their respective teams while allowing them to be unrestricted agents in 2010.[7, failing to make the playoffs despite an 18-game improvement over the previous year
For the 2006–07 season, James averaged 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. The Cavaliers finished the year with 50 wins for the second consecutive year and entered the playoffs as the East's second seed. In the first round, Cleveland swept the Wizards, and in the second round, they defeated the Brooklyn Nets en route to a rematch with the Detroit Pistons from the year before. In Game 5 against Detroit, James notched a playoff franchise record 48 points with 9 rebounds and 7 assists, and scored 29 of the Cavaliers' last 30 points including the game-winning lay-up with two seconds left.After the game, play-by-play announcer Marv Albert called the performance "one of the greatest moments in postseason history" and color commentator Steve Kerr called it "Jordan-esque." In 2012, ESPN ranked the performance the fourth greatest in NBA playoff history. Cleveland won the series to advance to the Finals versus the San Antonio Spurs, losing in four games. For the postseason, James averaged 25.1 points, 8.0 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game, although his Finals averages dropped to 22.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game.
During the 2007–08 season, James was named the All-Star Game MVP for the second time behind a 27 point, 8 rebound, 9 assist, 2 steal, and 2 block performance.On March 21, he moved past Brad Daugherty as the Cavaliers' all-time leading scorer in a game against the Toronto Raptors, doing so in over 100 less games than Daugherty. With seven triple-doubles to finish the year, James set a new personal and team record for triple-doubles in a season. His 30 points per game were also the highest in the league, representing his first scoring title. Despite his individual accomplishments, Cleveland's record fell from the year before to 45–37. Seeded fourth in the East entering the playoffs, the Cavaliers were matched up with the Wizards in the first round for the third consecutive season. In a pre-series interview, Washington guard DeShawn Stevenson stirred up controversy when he called James "overrated". James answered by saying that responding to Stevenson would be like rap icon Jay-Z feuding with one-hit wonder Soulja Boy. In the series, Cleveland defeated the Wizards in six games before being eliminated in seven games by the Boston Celtics in the next round. During the decisive seventh game in Boston, James scored 45 points and Paul Pierce scored 41 in a game the Associated Press described as a "shootout".
Miami Heat (2010–present)
James officially became a member of the Miami Heat on July 10, completing a sign-and-trade six-year contract with the team. With the move, he became only the third reigning MVP to change teams and the first since Moses Malone in 1982. Although his contract would have allowed him to earn the maximum salary under the collective bargaining agreement, he took less money in order for Miami to be able to afford Bosh and Wade as well as further roster support. That evening, the Heat threw a welcome party for their new "big three" at the American Airlines Arena, an event that took on a rock concert atmosphere. During the gathering, James predicted a dynasty for the Heat and alluded to multiple championships. Outside of Miami the spectacle was not well-received, furthering the negative public perception of James.
Throughout the 2010–11 season, James embraced the villain role bestowed upon him by the media. He later said that the negativity surrounding him as a result of his actions during the 2010 free agency "basically turned me into somebody I wasn't ... You start to hear 'the villain,' now you have to be the villain, you know, and I started to buy into it. I started to play the game of basketball at a level, or at a mind state that I've never played at before ... meaning, angry. And that's mentally. That's not the way I play the game." He often played the point guard role that Pat Riley sold to him during free agency, and in an early season victory versus the Minnesota Timberwolves, he was Miami's primary ball handler and registered a game-high 12 assists, the most ever by a Heat forward. On December 2, he returned to Cleveland for the first time since departing as a free agent, scoring 38 points and leading Miami to a win while being booed every time he touched the ball. He finished his debut season on the Heat with averages of 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7 assists, and 1.6 steals per game on 51 percent shooting. Entering the playoffs as the East's second seed, Miami defeated the Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics, and the first-seeded Bulls before stumbling in the Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, losing in six games despite holding a 2–1 series lead going into Game 4. James received the brunt of the criticism for the loss, averaging only 3 points in fourth quarters in the series. His scoring average of 17.8 points per game signified an 8.9-point drop from the regular season, the lowest such drop-off in league history.
Back-to-back championships and second MVP reign (2011–present)
Humbled by the Heat's loss to the Mavericks, James spent the offseason attempting to improve himself as a basketball player and a person, and worked with Hakeem Olajuwon on his post game. His work with Olajuwon paid off, fueling what writer Kirk Goldsberry called "one of the greatest and most important transformations in recent sports history". Behind James' more post-oriented play, Miami matched their best start to a season in franchise history, and at the conclusion of the lockout-shortened 2011–12 campaign, James was named MVP for the third time, finishing with averages of 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.9 steals per game on 53 percent shooting.
The Heat entered the 2012 Playoffs with the second seed in the East.They defeated the New York Knicks in five games in the first round before falling behind 2–1 to the Indiana Pacers in the second round. In Game 4, James turned in one of the best all-around performances of his career, registering 40 points, 18 rebounds, and 9 assists in a winning effort on the road. Miami eventually won the series in six games. In the Conference Finals, the Heat again faced the Boston Celtics, winning the first two games before dropping the next three. Facing elimination, James led Miami to victory by scoring 45 points in Game 6, making 19 of 26 shot attempts for a 73 percent shooting rate. The Heat won Game 7 to advance to the Finals versus the Oklahoma City Thunder. Despite holding a 13-point first half lead in Game 1, Miami lost the first game of the series but rebounded to win the next two games and go up 2–1. Game 4 proved to be a memorable one for James. With five minutes left in the game, he started experiencing leg cramps and was carried off the floor. He returned soon after and hit a three-pointer with 2:51 left to give the Heat a three point lead they did not relinquish. In Game 5, James registered his only triple-double of the season as Miami defeated Oklahoma City for their second ever championship and James' first championship. James was unanimously voted the Finals MVP with averages of 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game. His final playoff averages were 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game