LeBron James deserves his flowers now

OPINION: The newly minted billionaire is crushing life in hoops, business and philanthropy, placing him among the greatest of all time. At age 37, he’s at the height of his powers and making the greatest impact on and off the court.

LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers stands on the court prior to the start of an NBA game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center on March 27, 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Can we take a moment to acknowledge the absurdity of LeBron James’ story?

Born to a 16-year-old mother who raised him alone, he graced Sports Illustrated as a high school junior anointed “The Chosen One.” Imagine being a teenager from the hood with your face on 3.2 million magazine covers. You might require custom-made hats for your swelling dome.

James’ head didn’t get too big, but his legend has grown exponentially. Then-Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said 17-year-old James would be the No. 1 draft pick if he was eligible. Waves of reporters trekked to St. Vincent-St. Mary High School to chronicle the phenom’s exploits. “All hell broke loose,” James said in his 2009 book, LeBron’s Dream Team. “That cover pushed me onto the national stage, whether I was ready for it or not.”

More than just prepared, he apparently was built for it.

The hype was unprecedented, unfair and perhaps unrealistic. But 20 years later, James has exceeded all expectations on the court and at the bank, becoming the first active NBA player to reach billionaire status, according to Forbes. Michael Jordan was retired for over a decade before he hit that level.

Screenwriters would find James’ life too boring and straightforward. They’d want creative license to add drama, starting with his selection by the Cleveland Cavaliers as the No. 1 draft pick. Placing a teenage player in his home market straight out of high school—with an $18 million contract in his pocket—generally isn’t the wisest move. Investor Warren Buffet said he would’ve found trouble with that much success at such a young age, but James was “able to just be sensible and keep his head on straight. I admire him greatly,” Buffet told Vogue magazine.

We’ve seen alternate endings to these stories. The young star fails to mature, stunted by wealth and trifling hangers-on. Money is squandered and laws are broken. Substance abuse becomes an issue. Relationships with women are problematic. Potential is wasted as nightlife takes priority over work ethic. 

Would we have resisted all those temptations and invitations to be an a-hole? We’d love to try, but no guarantee.

LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers pauses on the court during the first quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on March 21, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

James deserves his flowers now. He’s crushing life in hoops, business and philanthropy, placing him among the GOATs in that triple-double. At the ripe age of 37, he’s at the height of his powers and making the greatest impact. Though basketball was his ticket out of poverty, he knows most youngsters need more than a 12th-grade education, the reason he founded the I Promise School and pledged millions for college scholarships.

He’s taken for granted by many observers, but not by the NBA’s sharpest minds. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who also has interests from the hardwood to our social fabric, doesn’t understand why critics like Laura Ingraham have called James ignorant and demanded that he stick to sports.

“I mean, think about when he came into public view, how young was he?” Popovich told reporters after Ingraham said James should shut up and dribble. “And to this day, he hasn’t missed a step, he hasn’t fallen off the ledge, and he’s been a brilliant example for millions of kids, especially kids with lesser opportunity and who haven’t had the same advantages as others.

“They see in this guy as somebody who has consistently exhibited excellence in the workplace, and gives them a voice and lets them know that you can speak about anything.”

On top of all that, James has modeled a family life he never enjoyed. He married his high school sweetheart, Savannah, and they have three children together. After entering the billionaire’s club, James showered his queen with affection in an open letter. “I’m simply letting you and the world know I ain’t sh*t without you!” he posted.

The journey hasn’t been flawless. Announcing his new team on live TV didn’t go over well in 2010, and his remarks on China created an international firestorm in 2019. Earlier this year, celebratory dance moves and COVID-19 musings drew flak (followed by an apology) from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 

Missteps happen. But none have been severe. 

He’s just a poor kid from Akron, Ohio, who broke the mold and inked a new blueprint, balling like a champ and banking like a boss. James had the audacity to dream big and make it come true. “I want to be a billionaire,” he said in 2005. Now he’s done it, a feat alongside four NBA titles, four MVP awards, and a robust foundation.

We need to recognize. 

That’s just crazy.

Deron Snyder thegrio.com

Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at blackdoorventures.com/deron

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