LeBron James has been called "the best high school basketball player ever." With a win last Saturday night against the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, James is inching ever closer to predicted professional greatness and destiny as well. James led the Cleveland Cavaliers through a four-game tear against the arch rival Pistons in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, locking up the first-ever Conference title for the Cavaliers and – in all likelihood – a key to the city at some point as well. Nevermind the rest of the planet…
James was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a junior in high school, ESPN featured him on national television, and he inked promotional contracts worth over $100 million before he even graduated high school. Oh, and there’s that “No. 1” pick in the NBA draft after graduation, too. Everyone across the country knows to “Rise Up” as a “Witness” to his talents. But just who is he, where does he come from, and what drives him?
If you’re curious, now’s as good a time as any to revisit a well-done and insightful look at James. The 2003 book LeBron James: The Rise of a Star, written by Akron Beacon-Journal sportswriter David Lee Morgan, Jr., comes courtesy of Gray & Company Publishers – a Northeast Ohio-based boutique publishing group. In it, Morgan offers up unprecedented insight and access to a young LeBron, his mother Gloria and a bevy of coaches, teammates and friends from his days at St. Vincent-St. Mary, a small parochial school in Akron, Ohio.
Morgan had the same luck that another Cleveland journalist – the sweet-and-motherly rock writer legend Jane Scott – did. His beat was and is high school sports, specifically basketball. And the former high school and collegiate athlete was in the right place at the right time. Morgan was lucky enough to follow James up to the very moment that James was selected at the head of his NBA class.
It seems that Morgan’s pedigree and approachable nature was enough to earn the trust of (and access to) the family; reading how challenging James’ life was early on, you could understand why it would take just the right person to tell the young man’s inspiring, poignant story. Born to a 16-year-old single mom without a stable home for the first decade of his life, James and his mom stayed with various friends and relatives on and off. He immersed himself in basketball; it became a wellspring from which he would draw passion, balance and enthusiasm for his life – his growing acumen, mirroring his growth as a person.
Like many young people in this country with a similar experience, things weren’t exactly geared to a “rags-to-riches” outcome: there was a lot of living hand-to-mouth, sleeping in strange places, floors, couches. Despite struggling with a sort of nomadic existence, James grew up with an amazing self-assurance, strength and character – heeding the guidance of his mother. Even when his talents began to draw eyes and attentions outside of Northeast Ohio, with utterances of “phenomenon” and criticisms bandied about, he remained grounded and true to himself and those he cares about the most.
It’s easy to think about James as a superstar, a Nike spokesman and the commercial face of basketball for millions around the world. It's just as easy to fall into the Michael Jordan redux – what with the man dunking high overhead sporting a #23 like his Chicago Bulls icon idol. But in the fray outside of the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Saturday night, it dawned on this reviewer that it’s also easy to forget some of the big picture stuff.
Fact is, LeBron James is also a human being, with an experience far greater than the huge expectations heaped on him by an entire sport, a region, the media and the man himself. He’s still a 22-year old young man learning himself inside and out. You’ll read a lot of material in the newspapers, magazines and on the internet – scrutinizing his every move. To wit, you’ll not read anything quite like this. LeBron James: The Rise of a Star is a sharp, astute and quick read, inspiring for all ages and perfect as a pre-game warm-up for those NBA Finals. It will make you appreciate what the Chosen One can do even more.
“Live from Planet Cleveland, this has been Blogcritic Peter Chakerian reporting. Back to you, Marv… and Go Cavs!”