James in center court

by David Morain

Think back to your high school years. Working on the school newspaper, suiting up for a home game on Friday night, studying for that chemistry test: this is probably about as hectic as it got for most of us.

Now, imagine that instead of writing a story for the paper you are the subject of a thousand articles in every major publication in the United States.

Instead of playing in front of a home crowd of a couple hundred, you play on national television in front of millions. Instead of studying chemistry, you’re analyzing your market value over the next five years in the National Basketball Association.

Imagine that you’re LeBron James, the biggest thing to hit basketball since they stopped using peach baskets.

Since bursting onto the radar screen of every sportswriter and talent scout on earth at the turn of the millennium, James has been at the center of a whirlwind of public exposure, corporate greed and tough decisions.

There was talk of challenging the NBA’s age policy by attempting to enter the draft following his junior year. There were even rumors that he might take the offer from an Italian professional club to forgo his senior year in exchange for one season of European basketball and $10 million.

When I was in high school, I got excited about receiving college pamphlets in the mail. If I would have just spent a little more time on my jump shot… but that’s another story.

I guess the scariest thing about the hype is that it’s all true. James is the real deal. He’s a 6-8, 225 lb. hybrid of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, a prototype of pure athleticism that can score at will from anywhere on the court.

He has better court vision and passing skills than many point guards, yet he rebounds and defends better than many power forwards. He’s a freak, pure and simple. A freak that will undoubtedly be chosen first in the NBA draft this June.

One scouting director said that James would have been the first pick in the NBA last year. Ever notice all the attention that Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets’ 7-6 rookie from China, has gotten so far? Take that times a hundred and you’ll have a rough sketch of what next year will be like with LeBron James in the league.

But that’s all in the future. Right now, James is just trying to figure out if he’ll be able to play the rest his career out at his high school, St. Vincent-St. Mary’s in Akron, Ohio.

Last Friday, the Ohio High School Athletic Association ruled James ineligible for the rest of the season after accepting gifts from a popular sporting goods store.

The merchandise, a pair of throwback jerseys, was totaled at $845. In exchange, the owner wanted to put a picture of James on the wall of the store, a clear violation of the rules governing amateur athletes.

For starters, if I were James, I wouldn’t have put my career in jeopardy in exchange for a Bullets’ Wes Unseld jersey. I would have held out for something really cool, like a 1987 Iowa State retro jersey of Lafester Rhodes, but that’s just me.

At any rate, James is now appealing the decision. This will be the second time this year that he’s been subject to scrutiny regarding his amateur status.

In January, James was seen driving a Hummer H2 around Akron. Apparently, his mother gave him the car as a gift for his 18th birthday. I won’t even go into what I got for my 18th birthday.

The OHSAA let him off, but only after double-checking every document connected with the H2 and the loan his mother used to buy it. The association probably won’t be so lenient this time.

Sure, with all of this success comes great responsibility. But he’s only 18. He doesn’t know anything yet. None of us did at that age. Of course, we always had someone there to help us figure it out. James doesn’t.

His mom has dollar signs in her eyes, even going so far as to quit her job to run his day-to-day affairs. The shoe companies are already in a recruiting war over the rights to sign him to an endorsement deal. Furthering his education is out; he’s had so much hype that the NCAA has already ruled him ineligible to play that the collegiate level. His only move now is to take the next step.

You can say a lot about James, how cool it would be to have that much talent, to have that much money waiting as soon as you step off the stage on graduation day.

But take a look at what else he has to look forward to.

If he isn’t the best rookie in the league next year, he’s a failure. If he doesn’t take over the NBA after a couple seasons, he’s a failure. If he isn’t the best to ever pick up a basketball, he’s a failure.

LeBron James’ life is already planned out for him. The rest of us can do whatever we want, be whomever we want. The world is a lot bigger than a 94-foot hardwood floor. Ultimately, I think we win.