LeBron Raymone James (born December 30, 1984) is an American professional basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). James has won three NBA championships, four NBA Most Valuable Player Awards, three NBA Finals MVP Awards, two Olympic gold medals, an NBA scoring title, and the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. He has also been selected to 13 NBA All-Star teams, 13 All-NBA teams, and six All-Defensive teams, is the Cavaliers’ all-time leading scorer, and is the NBA career playoff scoring leader.
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 by his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, as the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft. James led Cleveland to the franchise’s first Finals appearance in 2007, ultimately losing to the San Antonio Spurs. In 2010, he left the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in a highly publicized ESPN special titled The Decision. James spent four seasons with the Heat, reaching the Finals all four years and winning back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013. In 2013, he led Miami on a 27-game winning streak, the third longest in league history.
Following his final season with the Heat, James opted out of his contract and returned to the Cavaliers. Behind his leadership, Cleveland immediately advanced to three consecutive Finals against the Golden State Warriors, winning the championship in 2016 to end Cleveland’s 52-year professional sports title drought.
Off the court, James has accumulated considerable wealth and fame from numerous endorsement contracts. His public life has been the subject of much scrutiny, and he has been ranked as one of America’s most influential and popular athletes. He has been featured in books, documentaries, and television commercials. He also hosted the James was born on December 30, 1984 in Akron, Ohio to a 16-year-old mother, Gloria Marie James, who raised James on her own. When James was growing up, life was often a struggle for the family, as they moved from apartment to apartment in the seedier neighborhoods of Akron while Gloria struggled to find steady work.
Realizing that he would be better off in a more stable family environment, Gloria allowed James to move in with the family of Frank Walker, a local youth football coach, who introduced James to basketball when he 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. The players were inseparable and dubbed themselves the “Fab Four”, promising each other that they would attend high school together. In a move that stirred local controversy, they chose to attend St. Vincent–St. Mary High School, a predominately white private Catholic school.
James was selected by his home team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, as the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft. In his first regular season game, he scored 25 points against the Sacramento Kings, setting an NBA record for most points scored by a prep-to-pro player in his debut performance. At the conclusion of the season, he was named the NBA Rookie of the Year, finishing with averages of 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game. He became the first Cavalier to receive the honor and just the third player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game as a rookie. The Cavaliers finished the season 35–47, failing to make the playoffs despite an 18-game improvement over the previous year.
James earned his first NBA All-Star Game selection in 2004–05, contributing 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists in a winning effort for the Eastern Conference. Around the league, coaches and players took note of his rapid development, with George Karl telling Sports Illustrated, “It’s weird talking about a 20-year-old kid being a great player, but he is a great player … He’s the exception to almost every rule.” On March 20, James scored 56 points against the Toronto Raptors, setting Cleveland’s new single-game points record. With final averages of 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 2.2 steals per game, he was named to his first All-NBA Team.
Despite a 30–20 record to start the year, the Cavaliers 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 29 points and was named the NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player. Behind final season averages of 31.4 points, 7 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game, he finished second in overall NBA Most Valuable Player Award voting to Steve Nash. Under James’ leadership, the Cavaliers qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1998. In his postseason 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 Detroit Pistons in the second round.
James became an unrestricted free agent at 12:01 am EDT on July 1, 2010. During his free agency, he was contacted by several teams, including the Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, and Cavaliers. On July 8, he announced that he would sign with the Heat on a live ESPN special titled The Decision.
The telecast, broadcast from the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, Connecticut, raised $2.5 million for the charity and an additional $3.5 million from advertisement revenue that was donated to other charities. The day before the special, fellow free agents Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade had also announced that they would sign with Miami; reports later arose that the trio had discussed their 2010 free agencies together in 2006.
James decided to join with Bosh and Wade in part so that he could shoulder less of the load offensively, thinking that his improved teammates would give him a better chance of winning a championship than had he stayed in Cleveland. Heat president Pat Riley played a major role in selling James on the idea of playing with Bosh and Wade. Relieved of the burden of scoring, James thought he could be the first player to average a triple-double in a season since Oscar Robertson.
James drew intense criticism from sports analysts, executives, fans, and current and former players for leaving the Cavaliers.
The Decision itself was also scrutinized and viewed as unnecessary. Many thought the prolonged wait for James’ choice was unprofessional as not even the teams courting him were aware of his decision until moments before the show. Upon learning that James would not be returning to Cleveland, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert published an open letter to fans in which he aggressively denounced James’ actions. Some angry fans of the team recorded videos of themselves burning his jersey.
Former NBA players, including Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, were also critical of James, condemning him for joining with Bosh and Wade in Miami and not trying to win a championship as “the guy”. James drew further criticism in a September interview with CNN when he claimed that race might have been a factor in the fallout from The Decision. As a result of his actions during the 2010 free agency period, he quickly gained a reputation as one of America’s most disliked athletes, a radical change from years prior. The phrase “taking my talents to South Beach” became a punch line for critics.
Immediately following The Decision, James claimed that there was nothing he would change about the handling of his free agency despite all the criticism. During the 2010–11 season, he expressed some regret, admitting, ” probably would do it a little bit different … But I’m happy with my decision.” Before the 2011–12 season, he relented, “… if the shoe was on the other foot and I was a fan, and I was very passionate about one player, and he decided to leave, I would be upset too about the way he handled it.”