Wednesday, May 27th, 2009 at 4:37 pm  |  23 responses

The Phenom

LeBron was once counted out, like the Cavs are now.

That was then, this is now.

Back then he was a promise, “the next big thing.” Today he is arguably the face of the NBA. Back then he was mentioned as the most hyped player to ever enter the NBA, today he is mentioned in the same breath and category as Kobe, MJ and Magic. People wondered how could he possibly live up to all of that hype. But five years later, he has not only lived up to expectations, he has surpassed them. In SLAM 77, Ryan decided to add LeBron James to “The Players Who Defined our first Decade” list, despite the fact that he hadn’t even completed his first NBA season. For anybody who questioned why he was part of that list in April 2004, you have already been a witness to the answer.—Franklyn Calle

by Ryan Jones

You’re not surprised. It would be a surprise if you were. It’d be almost shocking, in fact, if you weren’t expecting to see this name on this list. This, as stated, is a collection of the 10 players who have in one way or another defined SLAM’s 10-year run. True, he came in on the tail end of our first decade, but he’s the most talked about cat in the game right now—how could he not be on this list?

So you can’t be surprised to see LeBron James here, even if he is only 19 years old, even if he hasn’t yet played a full NBA season, even if he hasn’t yet attained any of the tangible spoils (a ring, a scoring title, an MVP trophy) that the folks in Springfield like to tally when it’s induction time. You could argue that he might not deserve inclusion among a group of players—a group of men, mind you—who have accomplished as much as the rest of the players on this list have, but that argument misses the point. From the moment this kid entered our collective consciousness, it’s been about his promise. No, not “potential,” a word that merely implies possibility, but promise. As in certainty. History tells us there’s no such thing as a can’t-miss kid, but with LeBron, our brightest basketball minds are pretty much in agreement: This one is as close to “can’t-miss” as we’re ever likely to get.1683048TP008_LeBron_James

If you’ve been paying attention, you probably know we take a fair amount of credit for announcing LeBron James to the world. Not saying we found the kid under a rock, of course, but unless you were a college coach or recruiting insider or a pretty serious basketball aficionado in Northeast Ohio at the time, you probably hadn’t heard of this kid before the spring of his sophomore year. That’s when we hit him up, taking it upon ourselves to introduce LeBron James to the basketball public at large. A trip to Akron to get a glimpse of the future, to confirm the whispers we’d been hearing. Feature-length attention in SLAM 54, his first national ink, in an article that hit just before the perfect storm of media interest and adidas-and-Nike-inspired insanity began forming above him in the summer of ’01. The Basketball Diary that followed. A cover with Bassy. A solo cover after that. In between, SI and ESPN and almost literally everyone else either got at him or tried. (Who would’ve thought The New Yorker would ever need our help?) But we were there early, earlier then most, and we take pride in that. LeBron seems to appreciate it, too (remember the headband?), but even that’s not the reason he’s here.

So why does LeBron James, just past the midway point of his first NBA season, deserve a spot on this list? Because of the promise—and because of the past that created it. Because he has quite literally changed the game. Only Jordan has had a bigger impact on the way sneaker companies do business. That’s real, no matter how many pairs of Air Zoom Generations he’s sold so far. And he created a new (un)reality in recruiting: by his junior year, the college coaches didn’t really bother anymore, and the few who did usually couldn’t get past the line of hopeful agents. He made high school athletic associations update their by-laws. He inspired allegedly respected national media types to lambaste a kid they hadn’t even met over situations they didn’t even understand. He had David Stern answering questions about a high schooler—by name—during his All-Star Weekend press conference. He had everyone shook, everyone talking, everyone wanting a closer look. And right now, he has talent scouts scouring middle school gyms looking for the next “next,” the next King.

So that’s why. It’s because LeBron was, and is, unprecedented. None like him before—not when you consider the whole saga, the good, bad and ugly of the past few years of his life—and probably none quite like him again.

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  • http://www.slamonline.com Justin Walsh

    Ryan, you took a big ass risk with this, and it paid off in FULL. Franklyn, thanks for pullin’ it from the archives!

  • Jackie Moon

    Besides Charley Rosen, who counted LBJ out? I seem to recall a LOT of people pulling for him when he first came into the league, who are still among his most fervent supporters… And I’m not counting the Cavs out, I just think their historical odds are somewhere around 15-25%, which is around 2 times out of 10, so there’s a reason they play the games, because it could happen!

  • http://www.slamonline.com Max Airington

    (Chappelle)”Hate! Hate! Hate!”

  • http://www.slamonline.com Blinguo

    There was no (all covers) poster in my SLAM 10th anny, someone stole it off the rack, but I bought it anyway. Been subscribed or bought off the rack(if someone stole my mailed SLAMs) since. And my younger bro had a SLAM subscription for like 3 years before that. He even threw out dozens of them. I saw them in the recycling bin the night before pickup and grabbed the ones with players I liked on covers, should have saved them all in retrospect.

  • O

    Lebron is Biggie and Kobe is Tupac. Kobe had Shaq backing him for all those titles. Same way Pac had Suge Knight during his platinum days. On the flip side, Lebron was nice but his team didn’t really get nasty till Mo Williams came through. Sort of like Biggie who was hood nice till Puff took him to the next level. Dwight Howard is Soulja Boy. Came outta left field with some Superman ish to take over the game. Sure its by brute force and mediocre skills, he still gets the job done. Carmelo is just a dope basketball player…

  • tizzle

    great post O, your thr oracle

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Max Airington’s return. Outstanding.
    Jackie: I won’t recommend you buy my book (although I think you can find it used for about 27 cents on Amazon), but I detailed a lot of the specific hate in there, when it was still fresh. Countless (and I mean that almost literally) columnists and talking heads were trashing him when he was still in high school: For taking the jerseys, for driving the Hummer, for “allowing” his high school games to be televised, for having ignorant parents, etc, etc, etc.
    ESPN killed him in print and on TV, to the point that his fam said they’d never deal with ESPN again. Once the Follower realized this long-term strategic FAIL, they sent a high-level network rep — and I saw this sh*t happen with my own eyes — to apologize and @ss-kiss their way back into James fold. This happened in Philly when St. V-M was playing Strawberry Mansion back in (I’m pretty sure) Dec. 02.
    By the time he was a senior, his school had closed its campus to the media because of all the negativity. I understand if six years of almost relentlessly positive coverage has faded the memory, but that hate was everywhere. Please trust me on this.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Anyway, obviously, no regrets about putting him on that list, then or now. Just trying to remember who the other nine players were:
    If Slam had a Facebook page, this would be a cool quiz…

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    And FWIW, I AM counting the Cavs out. Those matchups are death. Bron’s been human, but only barely. Any other opinions are invalid. I’m out.

  • sixersforlife_85


  • http://slamonline.com/ Franklyn Calle

    Ryan: your list was on point but T-Mac and Chamique didn’t make that list. The other 4 were Rafer Alston, Vince Carter, Grant Hill and Reggie Miller.
    Justin: Tzvi gets the assist.

  • http://twitter.com/TH3_R3AL_CHRIS Young Chris MP3

    Reggie Miller?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Skip!!!! You guys need to post THAT write-up tomorrow — you know, after Orlando clinches. Can’t believe I forgot Vince, but then, of course I did.
    And Young Chris: Reggie was on there as our token villain. He personally inspired more hate than any other player during Slam’s first 10 years. If you’ve got the archive stacked up in your crib, this is the time to check it out.

  • Seven Duece

    I need to get that issue again, that was the best one EVER in my mind. The pics and the words were so on point. What number is that issue? The VC pic spread was untouchable.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Deuce: I went to Wikipedia to remind myself of what # issue that was (I wanna say 77 or 78?) but someone apparently just deleted the list from Wiki. Weird. Anyone at the Dome want to chime in on this? Is that info on the FB page?

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    That’s some mysteriousness on Wiki…it was issue 77. One of my favorite issues ever, and I actually reference it in next edition of Trash Talk.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    It is a great issue. I remember Russ and I on a long drive back from somewhere (might’ve been Cleveland, actually) talking about the 10 guys for 10 years concept. Proud of having been involved in that one.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Blinguo

    Ryan why you going to Wiki? (that’s for the kids, in those debates says EBOY to Jukai) Top of this page, —Franklyn Calle post up pre-piece thoughts gives the SLAM April 2004 #77 info.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    My bad for not paying attention to Franklyn’s intro. That said, Blinguo, the Wiki page was up (and accurate) for a lot of years. It was literally just taken down like three days ago, for no apparent reason. I hope this answers your question.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Blinguo

    Hey, I can admit I too looked at the wiki page several times to look up #’s/month/cover players. And it sucks that it is now gone. Hopefully another super fan will take the time to get in there and even top the old list by adding more info.

  • http://twitter.com JuRo

    Get that complete list on the Facebook page and on SLAM’s wikipedia page. NOW! If someone at dome won’t, I will. Not! Get a Domer to get it done. Please….

  • http://slamonline.com/ Tzvi Twersky

    @Ryan Jones and Juro: Check SLAM’s facebook page later today. That complete list may just be up there.

  • http://slamonline.com/ Tzvi Twersky

    Hey, complete issue listing on facebook page. http://tinyurl.com/mtgrdy