Touted as a can't-miss prospect while starring at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, LeBron James had an NBA-ready body to go along with his off-the-charts basketball IQ. LeBron was a three-time Mr. Basketball in Ohio while leading the Irish to three high school state titles during his four years. As interest grew, some of St. Vincent-St. Mary's games were televised nationally, giving LeBron a taste of what was to come.
One for the ages
Months after his senior prom, LeBron James was chosen No. 1 by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2003 NBA Draft. It was a star-studded class that year, as three of the next four picks (Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade) went on to become perennial All-Stars. Ironically, two of those players would become LeBron's future teammates in Miami.
LeBron James wasted no time filling up his trophy case, taking home Rookie of the Year honors in 2004. In his first NBA regular season game, LeBron put up 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals. He finished the season averaging 20.9 points, 5.9 assists and 5.5 rebounds, becoming the third rookie in NBA history to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. The other two? Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson.
LeBron put on one of the most impressive one-man shows in playoff history in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals, rallying the Cavaliers from a 2-0 series deficit against the Pistons. His signature performance was in Game 5. With the series tied 2-2, James scored 48 points, including the Cavs' final 25, in a double-overtime victory as the Cavs advanced to the NBA Finals in six games.
Can't overstate his value
At 24, LeBron James picked up the first of his three MVP awards. Leading the Cavaliers to a 66-16 record, LeBron averaged 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.2 assists and became the fourth player in NBA history to lead his team in total points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. But his regular season heroics didn't translate into a title, as the Cavaliers lost to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals.
With the Cavs down 1-0 against the Magic in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals, LeBron James authored one of the most clutch shots of his career. LeBron nailed a three-pointer as time expired to give the Cavs a 96-95 victory, capping a 35-point effort. The shot was the lone highlight for Cleveland, which lost the series in six games.
The Boston Celtics inflicted much postseason anguish for LeBron James through most of his career. After forming their Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, the Celtics ousted LeBron's Cavaliers in both the 2008 and 2010 playoffs. LeBron's final game in a Cavaliers uniform came in 2010, when Cleveland lost to the Celtics in Game 6 despite LeBron's triple-double (27 points, 19 rebounds, 10 assists). Despite the numbers, many questioned LeBron's effort in the series, especially after his 15-point outing in Game 5.
The prize of the 2010 free-agent class, LeBron James orchestrated one of the most heavily criticized and ill-conceived sports spectacles. Dubbed "The Decision," LeBron opted to announce his next NBA destination on national TV, where he infamously said he was "Taking his talents to South Beach" to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The backlash from fans and the media was overwhelming, igniting the hate LeBron continues to feel to this day.
Days after "The Decision," the Miami Heat did LeBron James no favors with this pep rally. James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were greeted by adoring fans during a championship-like celebration. Then LeBron uttered the words that have haunted him since that infamous day, proclaiming that the Heat will win "Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven" championships.
LeBron's much-publicized, heavily scrutinized first season with the Heat ended in embarrassment. Despite having some standout performances during the Heat's run to the Finals, LeBron pulled an unexplainable disappearing act. James never topped 24 points in any game during the series vs. the Mavericks, many times opting to pass up shots and settling for jumpers instead of attacking the paint. The Heat lost to Dallas in six games, giving LeBron's critics all the ammunition they needed to further tear apart his reputation.
Green with envy
LeBron, who said Boston's Big Three was the blueprint the Heat followed in forming their own triumvirate, eventually got his revenge against the Celtics. After bouncing the Celtics in five games during the 2011 Eastern Conference semifinals, the Heat got the best of them again in 2012. Down 3-2 heading to Boston, LeBron put together an historic effort, finishing with 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists to push the series to a seventh game. LeBron didn't disappoint in the winner-take-all game, either, notching 31 points and 12 boards to send Miami to its second consecutive Finals appearance.
Trophy is his
After a disappointing performance in the 2011 Finals against the Mavs, LeBron James is named the unanimous MVP of the Finals to go along with his regular-season MVP. LeBron averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists to capture his first career NBA title.