James during a Lakers game in August 2020.
|No. 23 – Los Angeles Lakers|
|Born:|| December 30, 1984|
|Listed height:||6 ft 9 in (2.06 m)|
|Listed weight:||250 lbs (113 kg)|
|National Basketball Association debut|
|Debut: 2003 for the Cleveland Cavaliers|
|High school:|| St. Vincent–St. Mary|
|NBA Draft:||2003 / Round: 1 / Pick: 1st|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Profile at nba.com|
|stats at Basketball-Reference|
LeBron Raymone James Sr. (born December 30, 1984), also nicknamed "King James", is an American professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Widely considered as one of the greatest NBA players in history, James is frequently compared to Michael Jordan and sometimes Kobe Bryant in debates over the greatest basketball player of all time.
During his 18-year NBA career, James has played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Miami Heat, and currently, the Lakers. He has competed in ten NBA Finals, including eight consecutive with the Heat and Cavaliers from 2011 through 2018. His accomplishments include four NBA championships, four NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) Awards, four Finals MVP Awards, 4 championship rings, two Olympic gold medals, and a thirteen straight playoff streak from 2006 through 2018. He is the first player in NBA history to have been named the Finals MVP with three different franchises. James holds the all-time record for playoffs points, is third in all-time points, and eighth in career assists. James has been selected to the All-NBA First Team a record thirteen times, made the All-Defensive First Team five times, and has played in sixteen All-Star Games, in which he was selected All-Star MVP three times.
James played high school basketball at St. Vincent–St. Mary High School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, where he was highly promoted in the national media as a future NBA superstar. After graduating, he was selected with the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
James led Cleveland to the franchise's first Finals appearance in 2007, losing to the San Antonio Spurs in a sweep. In 2010, he left the Cavaliers for the Heat in a highly publicized free agency period, a decision which analysts and fans were extremely critical about. In his first season in Miami, the Heat reached the Finals (in a rematch from 2006), but lost to the Dallas Mavericks in six games. James won his first championship in 2012 when Miami defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, earning the NBA Finals MVP Award for his play. In 2013, the Heat won their second consecutive title when Miami defeated the San Antonio Spurs in seven games and James repeated as the Finals MVP.
James left the Miami Heat after losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 rematch in five games and returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the offseason of 2014. In James' second stint with the Cavaliers, he would lead them to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances from 2015-2018 all against the Golden State Warriors. In 2015, the Cavaliers lost in the NBA Finals in six games to the Warriors. In 2016, James led the Cavaliers to their first NBA championship in franchise history and ending the city of Cleveland's 52-year sports title drought, defeating the Warriors in seven games after becoming the first team in NBA Finals history to come back from a 3-1 deficit and win. James won his third NBA championship and Finals MVP. In 2017 and 2018, the Cavaliers met the Warriors again in both Finals, becoming the first two teams to meet in the NBA Finals four consecutive times. However, the Cavaliers would lose to the Warriors in both NBA Finals, the former in five games, and the latter in another sweep.
James left the Cavaliers once again after opting out of his contract in 2018, and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he won the 2020 championship against his former team the Miami Heat in six games and was awarded his fourth championship and Finals MVP.
- 1 High school
- 2 Professional career
- 2.1 Cleveland Cavaliers (2003–2010)
- 2.2 Rise to superstardom (2004–08)
- 2.3 First MVP reign (2008–10)
- 2.4 Free Agency
- 2.5 Miami Heat (2010–2014)
- 2.6 Back-to-back championships and second MVP reign (2011–2013)
- 2.7 Final season in Miami (2013–2014)
- 2.8 Return to the Cavaliers (2014–2018)
- 2.9 Third championship and breaking the Cleveland sports curse (2014–2016)
- 2.10 End of second stint in Cleveland (2016–2018)
- 2.11 Los Angeles Lakers (2018–present)
- 3 International career
- 4 Player profile
- 5 Life outside basketball
- 6 Awards and honors
- 7 References
James attended St. Vincent - St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio; he was named a starter for the Fighting Irish.. He averaged 21 points and 6.2 rebounds, and led the team to a 23–1 record en route to the Division III state title. Keith Dambrot, now head coach at the University of Akron, was the head coach at St. Vincent - St. Mary. Coach Dambrot started working with James doing $1 clinics at a local recreation center.
In his sophomore year, James averaged 25.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 3.8 steals. He led the team to a 26–1 record and a Division III state title for the second straight season. He was the first sophomore to be named Ohio's "Mr. Basketball" and also became the first sophomore player ever selected to the USA Today All-USA First Team.
In James' junior year, his stats improved again. He averaged 29.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 3.3 steals and was again named Mr. Basketball of Ohio. He also earned a spot on the All-USA First Team, and was named the 2001–2002 boys' basketball Gatorade National Player of the Year. It was at this time that his nickname "King James" would become a household staple in Ohio.
James appeared in SLAM Magazine, which began his nationwide exposure. However, the St. Vincent - St. Mary basketball team did not defend its state title when increased enrollment forced the team to move up to the more challenging Division II (Ohio high school basketball has four divisions based on annual enrollment figures) and lost to Roger Bacon High School (Cincinnati). James attempted to declare for the NBA Draft after the season ended, petitioning for an adjustment to the NBA's draft eligibility rules which at the time required prospective players to have at least completed high school. The petition was unsuccessful, but it ensured him an unprecedented level of nation-wide attention as he entered his senior year. By then, James had already appeared on the covers of Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine. His popularity forced his team to move their practices from the school gym to the nearby James A. Rhodes Arena at the University of Akron. NBA stars such as Shaquille O'Neal attended the games, and a few of James' high school games were even televised nationally on ESPN2 and regionally on pay-per-view. Although his mother feared a football injury could hurt his chances in the NBA, James played his junior year of football and had 52 receptions for more than 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns. James fractured the index finger on his left hand in the first game of the post-season, but did not reveal the injury until after the state finals, where his team lost.
Gloria James created a firestorm of controversy when a bank took her son's future earning power into consideration, resulting in an approval of a loan used to buy an $80,000 Hummer H2 for her son's 18th birthday. The event prompted an investigation by the Ohio High School Athletic Association. Under the OHSAA guidelines, no amateur may accept any gift valued over $100 as a reward for athletic performance. When James later accepted two throwback jerseys of Wes Unseld and Gale Sayers worth $845 from NEXT, an urban clothing store in Shaker Square, in exchange for his posing for pictures to be displayed on the store's walls, OHSAA stripped him of his eligibility. James appealed and a judge blocked the ruling, reducing the penalty to a two-game suspension and allowing him to play the remainder of the season. However, James's team was forced to forfeit one of their wins as a result.That forfeit loss was the team's only official loss that season.
Despite the distractions, the Irish won a third state title, with James averaging 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.4 steals on the season. James was named to the All-USA First Team for an unprecedented third time, and was selected as Mr. Basketball of Ohio. He earned MVP honors at the McDonald's All-American Game, the EA Sports Roundball Classic, and the Jordan Capital Classic. Although it was a foregone conclusion, by participating in more than two high school all-star events, James officially lost his NCAA eligibility.
James finished his high school career with 2,657 points, 892 rebounds, and 523 assists.
Cleveland Cavaliers (2003–2010)
Rookie season (2003–04)
James was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. In his first professional game, he recorded 25 points against the Sacramento Kings, setting an NBA record for most points scored by a prep-to-pro player in his debut outing. In a late season match-up with the New Jersey Nets, he scored a season-high 41 points, becoming the youngest player in league history to score at least 40 points in a game at 19 years of age. He was eventually named the Rookie of the Year, finishing with averages of 20.9 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game. He became the first Cavalier to receive the honor and joined Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan as the only players in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game in their rookie year (Tyreke Evans has since joined this group). The Cavaliers finished the season 35–47, failing to make the playoffs despite an 18-game improvement over the previous year.
Rise to superstardom (2004–08)
James recorded his first career triple-double on January 19 of the 2004–05 NBA season, becoming the youngest player in league history to record a triple-double at 20 years. His play earned him his first All-Star Game selection, where he added 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists in a winning effort for the Eastern Conference. On March 20, he scored a career-high 56 points against the Toronto Raptors, setting Cleveland's new single game points record. With averages of 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 2.2 steals per game to finish the season, he became the youngest player in NBA history to be named to an All-NBA Team, being selected to the All-NBA Second Team. Despite a 30–20 record to start the year, Cleveland again failed to make the playoffs, finishing the season at 42-40.
At the 2006 All-Star Game, James led the East to victory with a 29 point and 6 rebound performance, becoming the youngest ever winner of the All-Star Game MVP Award at 21 years, 51 days. For the season, he averaged 31.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game, becoming the youngest player in league history to average at least 30 points per game. He was considered a strong candidate for the Most Valuable Player Award, but eventually finished second in the voting to Steve Nash; however, he was awarded co-MVP honors with Nash by The Sporting News, and was named to the All-NBA First Team for the first time in his career. Under James' leadership, the Cavaliers qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1998, improving their record by 33 wins from the year before he was drafted. In his playoff debut, he recorded a triple-double in a winning effort versus the Washington Wizards. In Game 3 of the series, he made the first game-winning shot of his career, making another in Game 5. Cleveland would go on to defeat the Wizards before being ousted by the defending Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons in the second round.
After the 2006 Playoffs, James and the Cavaliers negotiated a three-year, $60 million contract extension with a player option for a fourth year. Although it was for fewer years and less money than the maximum he could sign, it allotted him the option of seeking a new contract worth more money as an unrestricted free agent following the 2009–10 season. He discussed this decision with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, fellow members of his 2003 draft class, who also re-signed with their respective teams while allowing them to be unrestricted agents in 2010.
For the 2006–07 season, James averaged 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. The Cavaliers finished the year with 50 wins for the second consecutive year and entered the playoffs as the East's second seed. In the first round, Cleveland swept the Wizards, and in the second round, they defeated the Nets en route to a rematch with the Pistons from the year before. In Game 5 against Detroit, James notched a playoff franchise record 48 points with 9 rebounds and 7 assists, and scored 29 of the Cavaliers' last 30 points including the game-winning lay-up with two seconds left. After the game, play-by-play announcer Marv Albert called the performance "one of the greatest moments in postseason history" and color commentator Steve Kerr called it "Jordan-esque." In 2012, ESPN ranked the performance the fourth greatest in modern NBA playoff history. Cleveland won the series to advance to the Finals versus the Spurs, losing in four games. For the postseason, James averaged 25.1 points, 8.0 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game, although his Finals averages dropped to 22.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game due to the fact that he had very little talent supporting him.
During the 2007–08 season, James was named the All-Star Game MVP for the second time behind a 27 point, 8 rebound, 9 assist, 2 steal, and 2 block performance. On March 21, he moved past Brad Daugherty as the Cavaliers' all-time leading scorer in a game against the Raptors, doing so in over 100 less games than Daugherty. With seven triple-doubles to finish the year, James set a new personal and team record for triple-doubles in a season. His 30 points per game were also the highest in the league, representing his first and thus far only scoring title. Despite his individual accomplishments, Cleveland's record fell from the year before to 45–37. Seeded fourth in the East entering the playoffs, the Cavaliers were matched up with the Wizards in the first round for the third consecutive season. In a pre-series interview, Washington guard DeShawn Stevenson stirred up controversy when he called James "overrated". James answered by saying that responding to Stevenson would be like rap icon Jay Z feuding with one-hit wonder Soulja Boy. In the series, Cleveland defeated the Wizards in six games before being eliminated in seven games by the newly-formed Boston Celtics in the next round. During the decisive seventh game in Boston, James scored 45 points and Paul Pierce scored 41 in a game the Associated Press described as a "shootout".
First MVP reign (2008–10)
In the 2008–09 season, James finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting and made his first All-Defensive Team behind 23 chase-down blocks and a career-high 93 total blocks. Behind his play and the acquisition of All-Star Mo Williams, the Cavaliers went a franchise record 66–16 and fell one game short of matching the best home record in league history. With averages of 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals, and a career-high 1.2 blocks per game, James became the first Cavalier to win the NBA MVP Award. In the playoffs, Cleveland swept the Pistons and Atlanta Hawks to earn a match-up with the Orlando Magic in the Conference Finals. In Game 1 of the series, James scored 49 points with a 66 percent shooting rate in a losing effort for the Cavaliers. In Game 2, he hit an iconic game-winner to tie the series at 1–1. Cleveland would lose the series in six games, and following the loss in Game 6, James immediately left the floor without shaking hands with his opponents, an act many media members viewed as unsportsmanlike. He later told reporters: "It's hard for me to congratulate somebody after you just lose to them, I'm a winner. It's not being a poor sport or anything like that. If somebody beats you up, you're not going to congratulate them. ... I'm a competitor. That's what I do. It doesn't make sense for me to go over and shake somebody's hand." For the series, he averaged 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game, finishing the postseason with a career playoff-high 35.3 points per game.
To address their lack of an inside presence against the Magic, the Cavaliers traded for center Shaquille O'Neal before the 2009-10 season; however, Shaq at this point was out of his prime and a shell of his former self. To give James more scoring help, Cleveland also added All-Star Antawn Jamison to their roster at the trading deadline. At the end of the season, James was named MVP for the second consecutive year with averages of 29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, a career-high 8.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1 block per game on 50 percent shooting. With the additions of O'Neal and Jamison, the Cavaliers finished the season with the league's best record for the second straight year. In the playoffs, Cleveland beat the Bulls in the first round, but fell to the Celtics in the second round. James was heavily criticized for not playing well, particularly in Game 5 of the series when he shot only 20 percent on 14 shots, scoring 15 points. This lackadaisical performance caused team owner Dan Gilbert and many fans to accuse LeBron of quitting during this game.  At the conclusion of the game he walked off the court to a smattering of boos from the Cavaliers' home crowd, the team having just suffered their worst home playoff loss ever. Cleveland were officially eliminated in Game 6, with James recording 27 points, 19 rebounds, and 10 assists, but on just 38 percent shooting with 9 turnovers.
James became an unrestricted free agent at 12:01 am EDT on July 1, 2010. During his free agency, he was courted by several teams including the Bulls, Clippers, Heat, Knicks, Nets, and Cavaliers. On July 8, he announced on a live ESPN special titled The Decision that he would sign with the Heat. The telecast, broadcast from the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, Connecticut, have raised $2.5 million for the charity and an additional $3.5 million from advertisement revenue that was donated to other charities. The day before the special, fellow free agents Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade had also announced that they would sign with Miami. James decided to join with Bosh and Wade in part so that he could shoulder less load offensively, thinking that his improved teammates would give him a better chance of winning a championship than had he stayed in Cleveland. Heat president Pat Riley played a major role in selling James on the idea of playing with Bosh and Wade. Relieved of the burden of scoring, James thought that he could be the first player to average a triple-double in a season since Oscar Robertson.
James drew immense criticism from sports analysts, executives, fans, and current and former players for leaving the Cavaliers. The Decision itself was also scrutinized and viewed as unnecessary. Many thought the prolonged wait for James' choice was unprofessional as not even the teams courting him were aware of his decision until moments before the show. Upon learning that James would not be returning to Cleveland, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert published an open letter to fans in which he aggressively denounced James' actions. Some angry fans of the team recorded videos of themselves burning his jersey. Former NBA players including Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson were also critical of James, condemning him for joining with Bosh and Wade in Miami and not trying to win a championship as "the guy". James drew further criticism in a September interview with CNN when he claimed that race might have been a factor in the fallout from The Decision. As a result of his actions during the 2010 free agency period, James quickly gained a reputation as one of America's most disliked athletes, a radical change from years prior. The phrase "taking my talents to South Beach" became a punch line for critics.
Immediately following The Decision, James claimed that there was nothing he would change about the handling of his free agency despite all the criticism. Since then, he has expressed remorse over his actions. During the 2010–11 season, he said he "probably would do it a little bit different ... But I'm happy with my decision." James relented about the special before the 2011–12 season: "... if the shoe was on the other foot and I was a fan, and I was very passionate about one player, and he decided to leave, I would be upset too about the way he handled it."
Miami Heat (2010–2014)
Debut season (2010–11)
James officially became a member of the Heat on July 10, completing a sign-and-trade six-year contract with the team. With the move, he became only the third reigning MVP to change teams and the first since Moses Malone in 1982. Although his contract would have allowed him to earn the maximum salary under the collective bargaining agreement, he took less money in order for Miami to be able to afford Bosh and Wade as well as further roster support. That evening, the Heat threw a welcome party for their new "big three" at the American Airlines Arena, an event that took on a rock concert atmosphere. During the gathering, James predicted a dynasty for the Heat and alluded to multiple championships. Outside of Miami, the spectacle was not well-received, furthering the negative public perception of James.
Throughout the 2010–11 season, James embraced the villain role bestowed upon him by the media. He later said that the negativity surrounding him as a result of his actions during the 2010 free agency "basically turned me into somebody I wasn't ... You start to hear 'the villain,' now you have to be the villain, you know, and I started to buy into it. I started to play the game of basketball at a level, or at a mind state that I've never played at before ... meaning, angry. And that's mentally. That's not the way I play the game." He often played the point guard role that Pat Riley sold to him during free agency, and in an early season victory versus the Minnesota Timberwolves, he was Miami's primary ball handler and registered a game-high 12 assists, the most ever by a Heat forward. On December 2, he returned to Cleveland for the first time since departing as a free agent, scoring 38 points and leading Miami to a win while being booed every time that he touched the ball. He finished his debut season on the Heat with averages of 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7 assists, and 1.6 steals per game on 51 percent shooting. Entering the playoffs as the East's second seed, Miami defeated the 76ers, the Celtics, and the first-seeded Bulls before stumbling in the Finals against the Mavs, losing in six games despite holding a 2–1 series lead going into Game 4. James received the brunt of the criticism for the loss, averaging only 3 points in fourth quarters in the series. His scoring average of 17.8 points per game signified an 8.9-point drop from the regular season, the lowest such drop-off in league history.
He also averaged less points than both Bosh and Wade despite being regarded as the best player on the team, and shot very inefficiently from the field during the series.
Back-to-back championships and second MVP reign (2011–2013)
Humbled by the Heat's loss to the Mavericks, James spent the offseason attempting to improve himself as a basketball player and a person, and worked with Hakeem Olajuwon on his post game. His work with Olajuwon paid off, fueling what writer Kirk Goldsberry called "one of the greatest and most important transformations in recent sports history". Behind James' more post-oriented play, Miami matched their best start to a season in franchise history, and at the conclusion of the lockout-shortened 2011–12 campaign, James was named MVP for the third time, finishing with averages of 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.9 steals per game on 53 percent shooting.
The Heat entered the 2012 Playoffs with the second seed in the East. They defeated the Knicks in five games in the first round before falling behind 2–1 to the Pacers in the second round. In Game 4, James turned in one of the best all-around performances of his career, registering 40 points, 18 rebounds, and 9 assists in a winning effort on the road. Miami eventually won the series in six games. In the Conference Finals, the Heat again faced the Celtics, winning the first two games before dropping the next three. Facing elimination, James led Miami to victory by scoring 45 points in Game 6, making 19 of 26 shot attempts for a 73 percent shooting rate. The Heat won Game 7 to advance to the Finals versus the Oklahoma City Thunder. Despite holding a 13-point first half lead in Game 1, Miami lost the first game of the series, but rebounded to win the next two games and go up 2–1. Game 4 proved to be a memorable one for James. With five minutes left in the game, he started experiencing leg cramps and was carried off the floor. He returned soon after and hit a three-pointer with 2:51 left to give the Heat a three point lead they did not relinquish. In Game 5, James registered his only triple-double of the season as Miami defeated Oklahoma City for their second ever championship and James' first championship. James was unanimously voted the Finals MVP with averages of 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game. His final playoff averages were 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game.
In February of the 2012–13 season, James had a "month for the ages", setting multiple shooting efficiency records and becoming the first player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in March 1983 to take more than 200 shots in a calendar month and make at least 64 percent of them. During this period, the Heat began a 27-game winning streak, the third longest in NBA history. Behind his play, Miami finished the year with a franchise and league best 66-16 record, and James was named MVP for the fourth time, falling just one vote shy of becoming the first player in NBA history to win the award unanimously. His final season averages were 26.8 points, 8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 1.7 steals per game on 56.5 percent shooting.
To start the 2013 Playoffs, the Heat swept the Milwaukee Bucks and Bulls en route to a Conference Finals match-up versus the Pacers. In Game 1 against Indiana, James scored a buzzer-beating layup in overtime to give Miami a one point victory. Throughout the series, James' supporting cast struggled significantly, and his added scoring load prompted him to compare his responsibilities to those of his "Cleveland days". Despite these struggles, the Heat won the series in seven games, advancing to the Finals for a meeting with the Spurs, signifying a rematch for James from his first Finals six years earlier. At the beginning of the series, James was criticized for his lack of aggressiveness and poor shot selection as Miami fell behind 2-3. In Game 6, James recorded his second triple-double of the series including 16 fourth quarter points to lead the Heat to a comeback victory. In Game 7, Miami defeated San Antonio for their second consecutive championship. James notched 37 points in the deciding game, tying the record for most points scored in an NBA Finals Game 7 victory. He was named Finals MVP for the second straight season, averaging 25.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2.3 steals per game for the series and 25.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game for the playoffs.
Final season in Miami (2013–2014)
On March 3 of the 2013–14 season, James scored a career-high and franchise-record 61 points in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats. Throughout the year, he was one of the few staples for a Heat roster that used 20 different starting lineups due to injuries, finishing with averages of 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game on 56.7 percent shooting. In the second round of the playoffs, he tied a career postseason-high by scoring 49 points in Game 4 against the Brooklyn Nets. In the next round, Miami defeated the Pacers to earn their fourth consecutive Finals berth, becoming the first Eastern Conference team and one of the only four teams in NBA history to do so. They once again faced the Spurs in a rematch from 2013. In Game 1 of the Finals, James missed most of the fourth quarter because of leg cramps, helping the Spurs take an early series lead. In Game 2, he led the Heat to a series-tying victory with 35 points on a 64 percent shooting rate. San Antonio eventually eliminated the Heat in five games, ending Miami's quest for a three-peat. For the Finals, James has averaged 28.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game.
Return to the Cavaliers (2014–2018)
On June 25, 2014, James opted out of his contract with the Heat, and on July 1, he officially became an unrestricted free agent. On July 11, he revealed via a first-person essay in Sports Illustrated that he intended to return to the Cavaliers to bring his hometown a championship. In contrast to The Decision, his announcement to return to Cleveland was well-received. On July 12, he officially signed with the team, who had compiled a league-worst 97–215 record in the four seasons following his departure. A month after James's signing, the Cavaliers had acquired Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves, forming a new star trio along with Kyrie Irving.
Third championship and breaking the Cleveland sports curse (2014–2016)
In January of the 2014–15 season, James missed two weeks due to left knee and lower back strains, which represented the longest stretch of missed games in his career. In total, he played a career-low 69 games and his final averages were 25.3 points, 6 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game. In the second round of the playoffs, he hit a baseline jumper at the buzzer to give Cleveland a 2–2 series tie with the Bulls. In the Conference Finals, the Cavaliers defeated the Hawks to advance to the Finals, making James the first player since the 1960s to play in five consecutive Finals. For most of the Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Irving and Love were sidelined due to injury, giving James more offensive responsibilities. Behind his leadership, the Cavaliers opened the series with a 2–1 lead before being eliminated in six games. Despite the loss, he received serious consideration for the Finals MVP Award, averaging 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game for the championship round. However, he shot less than 40% from the field during the series, which was quite bad for his standards.
During the 2015–16 season, James was criticized for his role in several off-court controversies, including the midseason firing of Cavaliers' coach David Blatt. Despite these distractions, Cleveland finished the year with 57 wins and the best record in the East. James's final averages were 25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game on 52 percent shooting. In the playoffs, the Cavaliers advanced comfortably to the Finals, losing only two games en route to a rematch with the Warriors, who were coming off a record-setting 73-win season. To begin the series, Cleveland fell behind 3–1, including two blowout losses. James responded by registering back-to-back 41 point games in Games 5 and 6, leading the Cavaliers to two consecutive wins to stave off elimination. In Game 7, he posted a triple-double and made a number of key plays, including "The Block" on Andre Iguodala, as Cleveland emerged victorious, winning the city's first professional sports title in 52 years and becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3–1 series deficit in the Finals. James became just the third player to record a triple-double in an NBA Finals Game 7, and behind series averages of 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.3 blocks, and 2.6 steals per game, he also became the first player in league history to lead both teams in all five statistical categories for a playoff round, culminating in a unanimous Finals MVP selection.
End of second stint in Cleveland (2016–2018)
The 2016–17 season was marred by injuries and unexpected losses for the Cavaliers; James later described it as one of the "strangest" years of his career. Following a January defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans, he publicly criticized Cleveland's front office for constructing a team that he felt was too "top heavy", for which he received countercriticism. The Cavaliers finished the season as the East's second seed, with James averaging 26.4 points and career highs in rebounds (8.6), assists (8.7), and turnovers (4.1) per game. In Game 3 of the first round of the postseason, he registered 41 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists against the Pacers, leading Cleveland to a comeback victory after trailing by 25 points at halftime, representing the largest halftime deficit overcome in NBA playoff history. In Game 5 of the Conference Finals against the Celtics, James scored 35 points and surpassed Michael Jordan as the league's all-time postseason scoring leader. The Cavaliers won the game and the series, advancing to their third consecutive Finals against the Warriors, who had signed James' rival Kevin Durant during the offseason. Behind averages of 33.6 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists per game, James became the first player to average a triple-double in the Finals, but Cleveland was defeated in five games by the superteam Warriors.
Prior to the start of the 2017–18 season, the Cavaliers overhauled their roster by trading Kyrie Irving to the Celtics, who requested a trade in part because he no longer wanted to play with James and wanted more responsibility on the offensive side of the ball. After a slow start to the year, Cleveland rebounded by winning 18 of 19 games in December. Their turnaround began with a victory over the Wizards where James scored 57 points, which represented the second-highest point total of his career and tied a franchise record. In January, the Cavaliers had a losing record, and James was criticized for his lackluster effort. Following another round of trades in February, Cleveland returned to form and James reached a number of historical milestones; for example, on March 30, he set an NBA record with 867 straight games scoring in double digits. James eventually finished the season with averages of 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, and a career-high 9.2 assists and 4.2 turnovers per game.
In the playoffs, he guided the Cavaliers to another Finals rematch with the Warriors. Along the way, he had some of the most memorable moments of his career, including a game-winning shot against the Pacers and another against the Raptors. In the first game of the Finals, James scored a playoff career-high 51 points, but Cleveland was defeated in overtime. Following the defeat, James injured his hand after punching a wall in frustration in the locker room, which hindered his effectiveness for the remainder of the series. The Cavaliers lost the series in four games, with James averaging 34 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 10 assists per game for the Finals, being swept for the second time in his career as well as being the fifth player to get swept in the Finals twice, joining Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wes Unseld, and Michael Cooper.
Los Angeles Lakers (2018–present)
2018–2019: Injury and playoff miss
On June 29, 2018, James opted out of his contract with the Cavaliers and became an unrestricted free agent. On July 1, his management company, Klutch Sports, announced that he would sign with the Los Angeles Lakers; the deal was officially completed on July 9. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, James's agent, Rich Paul, explained, "In 2010, when he went to Miami, it was about championships. In 2014, when he went back to Cleveland, it was about delivering on a promise. In 2018, it was just about doing what he wants to do." Reaction to the move was more positive than his original departure from the Cavaliers due to him leading the team to four straight finals and winning in 2016, ending the city's drought, albeit still mixed, as some onlookers felt that Los Angeles was not his optimal destination.
Following James's signing, the Lakers rounded out their roster with a controversial collection of playmakers and veterans. As a result, to begin the 2018–19 season, the team struggled to find effective lineups and recorded only two wins through their first seven games. In November, they began a turnaround, which included two of James's strongest performances of the season. On November 14, he registered 44 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists in a victory against the Portland Trail Blazers, passing Wilt Chamberlain, and four days later he scored a season-high 51 points in a win over the Miami Heat. After blowing out the defending two-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day, Los Angeles improved their record to 20–14, but James suffered a groin injury in the process. He ultimately missed a career-high 17 consecutive games, and the Lakers fell out of playoff contention without him. The team was unable to recover and failed to qualify for the postseason, marking the first time since 2005 that James missed the playoffs as well as the first time since 2010 that he had failed to reach the Finals and the sixth straight year that Lakers have missed the playoffs. On March 7, the Lakers announced that James would begin a minutes restriction, and on March 30, he was officially ruled out for the remainder of the season. James's final averages were 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 8.3 assists per game, and despite his inconsistent campaign, he was ultimately named to the All-NBA Third Team, marking the first time in 12 years that he did not make the All-NBA First Team.
2019–2020: Fourth NBA championship
During the offseason, the Lakers had hired Frank Vogel as their new head coach, and traded the majority of their young core to the New Orleans Pelicans for All-Star big man Anthony Davis. James immediately embraced Los Angeles's much-improved roster by transforming his playing style, moving to full-time point guard and competing with a more consistent defensive effort. Behind James's leadership, the Lakers opened the 2019–20 season with a 17–2 record, matching the best start in franchise history. On January 25, James passed team legend Kobe Bryant for third on the all-time regular-season scoring list, the day before Bryant's death in a helicopter crash.
In early March, James led Los Angeles to a victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in a matchup of conference leaders, followed by a streak-breaking win against the Clippers, before the season was suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With play set to resume in the confined NBA Bubble, he referred to the situation as a prison sentence. James ended the season as the league leader in assists for the first time in his career after averaging 10.2 assists per game. In the postseason, James led the Lakers to win the NBA Finals, defeating his former team, the Miami Heat, in six games. He was named Finals MVP for the fourth time in his career. At 35 years and 287 days old, James became the second-oldest player in NBA history to win the award behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was 38 years and 54 days old when he won his last Finals MVP award back in 1985. He also became the first player in NBA history to win the award on three different teams.
2020-21 NBA season: Title defense, injury woes, and early playoff exit
The 2020–21 season, reduced to 72 games for each team and starting on December 22, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, began after the shortest offseason in NBA history with a 116–109 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. On December 31, 2020, James became the first player in NBA history to score 10 points or more in 1,000 consecutive games in a 121–107 win against the Spurs. On February 13, 2021, James recorded 28 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists in a 115–105 win, the Lakers' seventh consecutive victory, over the Grizzlies. In a 109–98 loss to the Nets on February 18, James became the third player in NBA history with 35,000 career points, joining Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone; at 36 years and 50 days, he was the youngest player to reach the milestone. On March 20, 2021, James sprained his ankle against the Hawks, but was able to hit a three-point shot afterwards to keep his 10-points streak alive before exiting the game. By March, the Lakers were No. 2, two games behind the top-seeded Utah Jazz, but then went 14–16 without Davis and 6–10 without James, falling to No. 5. James returned on April 30, 2021, after missing 20 games, the longest absence of his career.
In May, James was sidelined again after leaving a game against the Raptors, but returned for the final two games to finish with averages of 25.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.8 assists on 51.3% shooting in 45 out of 72 games; this was his 17th consecutive season averaging at least 25 points per game, the most in NBA history. In an injury-laden season, the Lakers ended with a 42–30 record, finishing No. 7 due to tiebreakers and facing the No. 8-seed Warriors in the play-in tournament. The Lakers won 103–100 after James scored the go-ahead, three-point shot in the final minute, posting a triple-double with 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists, along with 2 steals and 1 block. His 34-foot (10 m) shot before the shot clock buzzer was his longest basket of the season as well as his longest go-ahead shot in the closing three minutes of a game in his career.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Lakers faced the No. 2 Phoenix Suns, the first time in James's career that he did not have home court advantage in the opening series. The Lakers were up 2–1 in the series before Davis suffered a strained groin in Game 4, in which James finished with a game-high 25 points on 10-for-21 shooting, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists. The Lakers would then drop the next three games (all double digit losses), ultimately losing to the Suns in six games, marking the end of their title defense and season. It also marked it the first time that James lost in the first round in his career. James finished the series averaging 23.3 points, his fourth-lowest scoring output for a series over his career and his lowest mark since averaging 22.8 in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals.
James made his debut for the United States national team at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. U.S. Olympic coach Larry Brown said that James, accustomed to being a star, was not 100% receptive to a reduced role. James spent the Olympics mostly on the bench without quality playing time, averaging 14.6 minutes per game with 5.8 points and 2.6 rebounds per game in eight games. Team USA finished the competition with a bronze medal, becoming the first U.S. basketball team to return home without a gold medal since adding professionals to their line-up. James felt his limited playing time was a "lowlight" and believed he was not given "a fair opportunity to play". His attitude during the Olympics was described as "disrespectful" and "distasteful" by columnists Adrian Wojnarowski and Peter Vecsey, respectively.At the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan, James took on a greater role for Team USA, averaging 13.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game as co-captain. The team finished the tournament with an 8–1 record, winning another bronze medal. James' behavior was again questioned, this time by teammate Bruce Bowen, who confronted James during tryouts regarding his treatment of staff members. Before naming James to the 2008 Olympic team, Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski gave James an ultimatum to improve his attitude, and he heeded their advice. At the FIBA Americas Championship 2007, he averaged 18.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game, including a 31-point performance against Argentina in the championship game, the most ever by an American in an Olympic qualifier. Team USA went 10–0, winning the gold medal and qualifying for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. James credited the team's attitude and experience for their improvement, saying: "I don't think we understood what it meant to put on a USA uniform and all the people that we were representing in 2004. We definitely know that now." At the Olympics, Team USA went unbeaten, winning their first gold medal since 2000.In the final game, James turned in 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists against Spain.
James did not play at the 2010 FIBA World Championship, but rejoined Team USA for the 2012 Olympics in London. He became the leader of the team with Kobe Bryant, who would soon be 34, stepping back. James facilitated the offense from the post and perimeter, called the defensive sets, and provided scoring when needed. During the Games, he recorded the first triple-double in U.S. Olympic basketball history.[a] Team USA went on to win their second straight gold medal, again defeating Spain in the final game. James contributed 19 points in the win, becoming the all-time leading scorer in U.S. men's basketball history. He also joined Michael Jordan as the only players to win an NBA MVP award, NBA championship, and Olympic gold medal in the same year. Afterwards, Krzyzewski said James "is the best player, he is the best leader and he is as smart as anybody playing the game right now."
Standing at six feet, nine inches tall and weighing in at 250 pounds, James has been called the best physical specimen in sports by some sports analysts. He has started at small forward and power forward, but can also play the other three positions. With career averages of 27.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.9 assists, and 1.7 steals per game, he is considered one of the most versatile players in the NBA, and has been compared to Hall of Famers like Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan. He has earned All-NBA honors every season since his sophomore year, All-Defensive honors every season since 2009, and was named Rookie of the Year in his debut season. With four MVP awards, he is part of a select group of players who have won the award four times, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Bill Russell. James is one of the only three players to have won a championship, Finals MVP Award, and MVP Award in the same season multiple times. While he has never won the Defensive Player of the Year Award, he has finished second in the voting twice and lists it as one of his main goals. Since 2011, he has been ranked the best player in the NBA by ESPN's #NBArank project.
In Cleveland, James was used as an on-ball point forward. Although his shooting tendencies were perimeter-oriented, he established himself as one of the best slashers and finishers in basketball, leading the NBA in three point plays in 2006. During his tenure with the Cavaliers, he was frequently criticized for not having developed a reliable jump shot or post game, areas he improved in Miami, where Heat coach Erik Spoelstra changed James' role to a more unconventional one. James began spending more time in the post and shooting fewer three pointers, attempting a career-low 149 in 2012. He improved his shot selection and accuracy on jump shots, finishing second in the league in catch-and-shoot field goal percentage in 2013. He also learned how to work as an off-ball cutter in the Heat's "pass-happy" offense. Throughout his career, James' playmaking ability has been praised; in one article, writer Rob Mahoney described him as a "fantastic passer". Using his size, vision, and the attention he garners from opposing defenses to his advantage,James is able to create easy points for his teammates with accurate assists, manufacturing a league leading 2.6 three pointers per game by way of his passing alone in 2013.
At the beginning of James' career, he was considered a poor defensive player, but improved steadily through the years. Near the end of his tenure in Cleveland, he became proficient at the chase-down block; coming in from behind the opposition in transition to block their shot. In Miami, he developed into a more versatile defender, and the Heat relied on him to guard all five positions. This allowed him to make several All-Defensive selections and come 2nd in Defensive Player of the Year voting once. Paired with teammates Shane Battier and Dwyane Wade, Miami used James in an ultra-aggressive defensive scheme, with James cheating off the ball to help out inside or get into rebounding position.
James's clutch play has been the subject of much scrutiny throughout his career. He has been repeatedly criticized by the media for his play in pressure situations; specifically, for passing instead of shooting in the waning seconds of close games. In a 2011 interview, teammate Chris Bosh stated that he would rather have Dwyane Wade take a last-second shot than James. On the other hand, a 2011 article by Henry Abbott revealed that James had a better shooting percentage with the game on the line than such notables as Ray Allen and Kobe Bryant.Additionally, a 2012 feature by ESPN ranked three of James' playoff performances as some of the greatest in NBA history.
Life outside basketball
James has three children with his high school sweetheart, Savannah Brinson. The first, LeBron James, Jr., was born on October 6, 2004, the second, Bryce Maximus James, on June 14, 2007, and the third, Zhuri, on October 22, 2014. They currently reside in Coconut Grove, a Miami suburb, where James bought a three-story mansion overlooking Biscayne Bay for $9 million. James became engaged to Brinson on December 31, 2011, proposing to her at a party to celebrate New Year's Eve and his 27th birthday. They are scheduled to wed on the weekend of September 13–15, 2013 in San Diego.
James is represented by agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports. James has numerous endorsement contracts; some of the companies he does business with are Audemars Piguet, Coca-Cola, Dunkin' Brands, McDonald's, Nike, State Farm, and Samsung. Coming out of high school, he was the target of a three-way bidding war between Nike, Reebok, and Adidas, eventually signing with Nike for approximately $90 million. His signature shoes have performed well for Nike, and in 2013 he led all NBA players in shoe sales. In 2011, Fenway Sports Group became the sole global marketer of his rights, and as part of the deal, he and his manager Maverick Carter were granted minority stakes in the English Premier League football club Liverpool F.C. As a result of James' endorsement money and NBA salary, he has been listed as one of the world's highest-paid athletes. In 2013, he surpassed Kobe Bryant as the highest-paid basketball player in the world with earnings of $56.5 million.
James, with comedian Jimmy Kimmel, co-hosted the 2007 ESPY Awards. In other comedic pursuits, he hosted the 33rd season premiere of Saturday Night Live. In 2009, he was featured in the Lions Gate documentary More Than a Game, which chronicled his high school years. He has also tried his hand at acting, appearing in a cameo role on the HBO series Entourage.
In 2010, James was ranked by Forbes as the second most influential athlete behind Lance Armstrong. As a member of the Cavaliers, he was adored by local fans, with Sherwin-Williams displaying a giant Nike-produced banner of James on their world headquarters throughout his tenure with the team. Despite their affection for James, Cleveland fans and critics were frequently annoyed when he attended Cleveland Indians games against the New York Yankees dressed in a Yankees hat. Following his actions during the 2010 free agency period and, more specifically, The Decision, he has been listed as one of the most disliked athletes.
A philanthropist, James is an active supporter of the Boys & Girls Club of America, Children's Defense Fund, and ONEXONE. He has also established his own charity foundation called the LeBron James Family Foundation, based out of Akron. Since 2005, the foundation has held an annual bike-a-thon in Akron to raise money for various causes.
In March 2008, James became the first black man—and third man overall after Richard Gere and George Clooney—to appear on the cover of Vogue, posing with Gisele Bündchen. Some sports bloggers and columnists considered the cover offensive, describing the demeanor of James and his holding Bündchen as a reference to classic imagery of the movie monster King Kong, a dark savage capturing his light-skinned love interest.
While James has largely avoided political issues, he drew criticism in 2007 when he declined to sign a petition started by his Cavaliers teammate Ira Newble regarding the Chinese government's alleged involvement in the ongoing conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan, stating that he did not know enough about the issue. A year later, James did talk publicly about the issue, saying, "At the end of the day we're talking about human rights. And people should understand that human rights and people's lives are in jeopardy. We're not talking about contracts here. We're not talking about money. We're talking about people's lives being lost and that means a lot more to me than some money or a contract." In June 2008, James donated $20,000 to a committee to elect Barack Obama. On October 29, 2008, James gathered almost 20,000 people at the Quicken Loans Arena for a viewing of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's 30-minute American Stories, American Solutions television advertisement. It was shown on a large screen above the stage, where Jay-Z later held a free concert.
Awards and honors
Main article: List of career achievements by LeBron James
James has won numerous awards and set many records during his career. The following are some of his achievements:
- Cited from Basketball Reference's LeBron James page unless noted otherwise.
- 4× NBA champion: 2012, 2013, 2016, 2020
- 4× NBA Finals MVP: 2012, 2013, 2016, 2020
- 4× NBA Most Valuable Player: 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013
- NBA Rookie of the Year: 2004
- NBA scoring champion: 2008
- 3× NBA All-Star Game MVP: 2006, 2008, 2018
- 17× NBA All-Star: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021
- 16× All-NBA:
- First Team: 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020
- Second Team: 2005, 2007
- Third Team: 2019
- 5× NBA All-Defensive:
- First Team: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
- NBA All-Rookie First Team: 2004
- Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year: 2012
- Sporting News Athlete of the Year: 2012
- Sporting News NBA MVP: 2006
- Sporting News Rookie of the Year: 2004
- Sports Illustrated NBA All-Decade First Team: 2000–2009 decade
United States National Team
- Cited from USA Basketball's LeBron James page unless noted otherwise.
- 3× Olympic medalist:
- Gold: 2008, 2012
- Bronze: 2004
- 2× FIBA Americas Championship medalist:
- Gold: 2007
- Bronze: 2006
- USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year: 2012
- Cited from the NBA's LeBron James prospect profile page unless noted otherwise.
- National champion: 2003
- 3× State champion: 2000, 2001, 2003
- 2× Gatorade National Player of the Year: 2002, 2003
- 2× USA Today High School Player of the Year: 2002, 2003
- 3× Ohio Mr. Basketball: 2001, 2002, 2003
- 3× USA Today All-USA First Team: 2001, 2002, 2003
- 2× PARADE High School Player of the Year: 2002, 2003
- Naismith Prep Player of the Year: 2003
- McDonald's National Player of the Year: 2003
- McDonald's High School All-American: 2003
- McDonald's All-American Game MVP: 2003
- EA Sports Roundball Classic MVP: 2003
- Jordan Capital Classic MVP: 2003
- jockbio.com, JockBio: LeBron James, accessed September 7, 2007.
- Cite error: Invalid
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- nba.com, Prospect Profile: LeBron James, accessed May 26, 2007.
- usabasketball.com, LeBron James, February 20, 2007, accessed May 21, 2007.
- ESPN.com, Prep star James can continue drive for state title, accessed June 1, 2007.
- ESPN.com, James ruled ineligible, plans to appeal decision, accessed June 1, 2007.
- ESPN.com, James must miss one more regular-season game, accessed June 1, 2007.