He may be the best player in the league, with hopes of being the greatest ever, although his latest actions have hurt his chances severely, at least from a subjective point of view. Here’s LeBron James’ story through photos and some words.
Rookie Year, 2003-2004
In most NBA drafts, we know who’s going to get picked first. The rare occasions are when we know that number one pick is going to be really great, not just an All-Star, but a Superstar. We knew Blake Griffin and John Wall will go no.1, but it’s not very clear how good can they be. With Shaq, Duncan and LeBron, it was clear they were destined to be hall of famers.
On October 29, 2003, two months before his 19th birthday, LeBron James played his first NBA game, scoring 25 points in 42 minutes as the Cavs lost to the Sacramento Kings. LeBron immediately became the Cavs’ best player, averaging 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists in nearly 40 minutes a night. He was only the third rookie in history to average a 20-5-5 during his rookie season, and became the youngest player ever to score 40 points in a game (March 27, 2004). Eventually James won the NBA Rookie of the year, the first Cavalier to receive the award, as Cleveland improved from a 17-65 record to a 35-47, missing the playoffs.
In the summer of 2004 James competed with the U.S. Olympic basketball team in Athens, part of the only USA team with NBA players that missed out on Olympic gold. James was limited to 14 minutes a game, averaging 5.8 points, as the US got Bronze.
Second Year, 2004-2005
A huge improvement in his game didn’t help the Cavs make the playoffs, finishing 42-40, but everyone knew how good he was. James’ averages – 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game while playing 42.4 minutes a night, more than anyone in the league. He became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple double, just three weeks after his 20th birthday. He made his first All-Star game and made his first All-NBA team, getting selected to the second team.
Third Season, 2005-2006 – First Playoffs
Finally, playoffs for LeBron. James finished second in the MVP voting behind Steve Nash, leading the Cavs to a 50-32 season and their first post season appearance since 1998. James won the All-Star game MVP, the youngest player in history to win the award. In late March-early April James scored more than 35 points in nine consecutive games, joining Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan as the only players to accumulate a streak like that since 1970. He also had his first 50+ games, scoring 52 against the Bucks and 51 against the Jazz.
His playoff debut? Triple double, as the Cavs beat the Wizards, with Cleveland eventually winning the series 4-2 with James averaging 35.7 points during the series. Next up? The Detroit Pistons. It took Detroit seven games to dispose of James and the Cavs, with LeBron averaging 30.8 points and 8.1 rebounds during the series.
Season Four, 2006-2007 – NBA Finals
James led the Cavs to another 50 win season and became only the second player in NBA history (along Oscar Robertson) to average 27-6-6 in three consecutive seasons, finishing the regular season averaging 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6 assists per game. In the playoffs the Cavs swept the Wizards in a heated series, with James averaging 27.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists. The Cavs beat Jason Kidd and the Nets 4-2 in the Eastern Semi Final, averaging 25 points, 7.2 rebounds and 8.6 assists, leading the Cavs to their first conference finals since 1992, in the Price-Nance-Daugherty era.
The Pistons took Games 1 and 2, but LeBron led the Cavs to four straight victories over Detroit, with an historic game 5 performance – he scored 48 points, scoring 29 of Cleveland’s last 30 points and their last 25 in the 109-107 double overtime win.
The Spurs, with the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili triangle at its best, were too much for LeBron and the Cavs, sweeping the NBA Finals, winning their fourth NBA title in 8 years.
Season 5, 2007-2008 – Celtics in the Way
Individually, LeBron had his best season till then, leading the league in scoring with 30 points per game, winning his second All-Star game MVP, becoming the youngest player in NBA history and ninth fastest to reach 10,000 points, becoming the Cavs’ all-time leading scorer and twice recording back to back triple double games. Team-wise, the Cavs finished 45-37, leading to another first round meeting with the Wizards. LeBron was roughed up again, and again the Cavs won, 4-2. Cleveland met with the Boston Celtics next, and took the eventual NBA champions to seven games, despite LeBron playing horribly in the first four games, including an ugly 2-18 night in game 1, scoring only 12 points.
Game 7 went down in NBA history books thanks to the duel between James and Paul Pierce. James scored 45, Pierce scored 41. The Celtics went on to win 97-92.
That summer James was part of the “Redeem-Team”, winning Gold in Beijing, with James averaging 14 points per game during the tournament.
Sixth Season, 2008-2009, MVP & Disappointment
Many believed he deserved that award a year earlier, but James won his first MVP for the 2008-2009 season, which ended in painful disappointment. He led the Cavs in five statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks), averaging 27.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks, making his first NBA All-Defensive team. Cleveland finished 66-16, a franchise record and a league best, including going 39-2 at home during the regular season. The team seemed ready, James seemed ready, to go all the way. The first two playoff rounds went by like a breeze, sweeping the Pistons and the Hawks with ease. Then came Orlando, and Cleveland had no answer to Orlando’s strength and dominance in the paint, aka Dwight Howard. Orlando won 4-2, later losing in the Finals to the Lakers. After the game six loss, James walked off the court without shaking hands with Orlando playersearning him a huge amount of criticism from the press.
Seventh Season, 2009-2010 – Second MVP, Again Stopped by Celtics
As usual, James was amazing during the regular season, leading Cleveland, again, to a league best 61-21 record. He became the youngest to reach 15,000 points and the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1962 to have a 40 points, 15 assists, 13 rebound game (he scored 43 in the loss to the Nuggets on February 18) and won his second consecutive MVP award. With Shaq, Jamison and Mo Williams, the Cavs looked favorites to go all the way this time. Again, it was the Celtics in the conference semi finals who took care of LeBron’s title hopes. James had an especially awful game 5, his last home game with the Cavs, scoring only 15 points as the Celtics destroyed the Cavs 120-88. James left the Q-Arena to boos and many empty seats. I guess it’s fitting to end his seven year chapter in Ohio like that, with his decision to join the Miami Heat a couple of months later, almost physically crushing Cleveland fans’ hopes of winning a title in the near future.