LeBron Raymone James (/ləˈbrɒn/; born December 30, 1984) is an American professional basketball player for the Miami Heat of the National Basketball Association (NBA). A 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m) small forward, he has been an NBA champion, the NBA Finals MVP, a three-time NBA MVP, and the NBA Rookie of the Year. One of Miami's co-captains along with Dwyane Wade, he is an eight-time NBA All-Star and has earned eight All-NBA honors and four All-Defensive honors. He is also the Cleveland Cavaliers' all-time leading scorer.
Nicknamed "King James", James played high school basketball at St. Vincent – St. Mary High School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. A three-time "Mr. Basketball of Ohio", he was highly promoted in the national media as a future NBA superstar. After graduating, he was selected with the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. In 2010, he left the Cavaliers for the Heat in a highly publicized free agency period. In 2012, he led Miami to their second ever NBA title, winning his first overall. His list of achievements and leadership during the Heats' 2012 championship run have led a majority of basketball analysts, experts, and writers to consider him the best player in the NBA today.
Off the court, James has accumulated considerable wealth and fame as a result of numerous endorsement contracts. His public life has been the subject of much scrutiny, and he has been ranked as one of America's most disliked and influential athletes. Having shown a passion for entertainment, he has been featured in books, documentaries, and television commercials, and has hosted the ESPY Awards and Saturday Night Live.
Cleveland Cavaliers (2003–2010)
James was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the number one overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. In his first professional game he recorded 25 points, setting an NBA record for most points scored by a prep-to-pro player in his debut outing. He also added 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals on 60 percent shooting. Originally, he was scheduled to compete in the 2004 Slam Dunk Contest but was forced to withdraw because of an ankle injury. 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 at 19 years old to score at least 40 points in a game. James was eventually named the 2003–04 NBA Rookie of the Year, finishing with averages of 20.9 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game. He also 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 season (Tyreke Evans has since joined this group). Despite James' award-worthy play and an 18-game improvement over the previous season, Cleveland failed to make the playoffs.
The Cavaliers played well to start the 2004–05 season, entering the All-Star break with a 30–20 record. During that time, James established himself as the team's leader with a string of notable performances. On January 19, he recorded his first ever triple-double, becoming the youngest player in league history to do so. His strong play earned him his first NBA 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, James scored a career-high 56 points against the Toronto Raptors, smashing Cleveland's previous 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, at the age of 20 he became the youngest player in league history to be named to an All-NBA Team, being elected to the All-NBA Second Team. Despite their strong start, Cleveland again failed to make the playoffs, finishing the year with a 42–40 record.
In the 2005–06 season, James established himself as one of the NBA's elite players. At the 2006 NBA All-Star Game, he led the East to victory with a 29 point, 6 rebound, 2 assist performance. For his efforts, he was crowned All-Star MVP, the youngest ever winner of the award at 21 years, 51 days. Throughout the year, he scored the basketball at a historic level, including nine straight games with 35 points or more, becoming just the third player since Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to do so. He ended the season with averages of 31.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to average at least 30 points per game and the fourth player in league history to average more than 30 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists per game in a single season. Additionally, he concluded the year with five NBA Player of the Week honors including an unprecedented three in a row for the weeks beginning March 19, 26, and April 2 respectively. He was considered a strong candidate for the NBA 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.
Under James' leadership, the Cavaliers qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1998, improving their record by 33 wins from three years prior. In his playoff debut, he recorded a triple-double with 32 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists in a winning effort versus the Washington Wizards. He joined Johnny McCarthy and Magic Johnson as the only players in NBA history to register a triple-double in their playoff debut. For the series, James averaged 35.7 points per game and Cleveland defeated the Wizards in six games. In the next round, the Cavaliers were ousted by the defending Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons. James' final playoff averages were 30.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game.
After the playoffs, James and the Cavaliers negotiated a three-year contract extension with a player option for a fourth year. The contract was worth $60 million and began at the start of the 2007–08 season. Although it was for fewer years and less money than the maximum he could sign, it allowed him the option of seeking a new contract worth more money as an unrestricted free agent following the 2010 season. He had discussed this with fellow members of his 2003 draft class Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who also re-signed with their respective teams while allowing them to be unrestricted agents in 2010.
James was elected to his third consecutive All-Star Game in the 2006–07 season. For the year, he averaged 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.6 steals per game, joining Robertson as one of two players in NBA history to average at least 27 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists per game for three consecutive years. The Cavaliers again finished the year with 50 wins and entered the playoffs as the Eastern Conference's second seed. In the first round, Cleveland defeated the Wizards for the second straight season, sweeping them in four games. For the series, James averaged 27.8 points, 7.5 assists, and 8.5 rebounds per game. In the second round, James averaged 25.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per game, leading the Cavaliers past the Nets in six games. In the Eastern Conference Finals, Cleveland faced the Pistons in a rematch from the year before. They quickly fell into an 0–2 hole but won the next two games to tie the series at 2–2. In Game 5, James had one of the greatest playoff performances in league history. He managed a franchise record 48 points on 54.5 percent shooting to go 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." Cleveland won the series but sputtered in the Finals versus San Antonio, 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. Along the way, he set a franchise record for double-doubles in a playoff season with eight and became the first Cavalier and non-guard in NBA history to have at least seven assists in eight consecutive playoff games.
James engages in his pre-game ritual of tossing crushed chalk into the air in March 2008.
James continued his dominant play in the 2007–08 season, earning his fourth consecutive All-Star Game appearance and winning the All-Star Game MVP award for the second time behind a 27 point, 8 rebound, 9 assist, 2 block, and 2 steal performance. Over the course of the year he set numerous individual, team, and league records. On February 19 in a game against the Houston Rockets, he recorded his fifth triple-double of the season, becoming the third youngest player in league history to post 15 triple-doubles behind Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson. He registered another triple-double against the Indiana Pacers the very next game, signifying the second time that season he had a triple-double in back-to-back games. The last player to accomplish that feat before him was Johnson in 1988. James finished the year with seven triple-doubles, breaking his personal and team records for triple-doubles in a season. On February 27, he became the youngest player to score 10,000 points in his career at 23 years, 59 days in a game against the Boston Celtics. Additionally, it only took him 368 games to reach that milestone, the ninth fastest in league history. On March 5, he scored 50 points with 8 rebounds and 10 assists versus the New York Knicks, becoming only the third player since the ABA-NBA merger to record a 50-point, 10-assist game. On March 21, he moved past Brad Daugherty as the Cavaliers' all-time leading scorer in a game against the Toronto Raptors, doing so in over 100 less games than Daugherty.
James drives to the basket in April 2008.
Despite James' individual accomplishments, Cleveland's record fell from the year before to 45–37. Seeded fourth in the Eastern Conference 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". In response, James said that he would not return the insult because it would be like "Jay-Z [responding to a negative comment] made by Soulja Boy." James later said that he meant no disrespect to Soulja Boy with his comment, and that his young son was a big fan of the rapper. In the series, Cleveland defeated the Wizards in six games before being eliminated in seven games by the eventual 2008 NBA Champion Celtics in the next round. During the decisive seventh game in Boston, James scored 45 points but the Cavaliers could not overcome Paul Pierce's 41-point explosion.
In the 2008–09 season, James established himself as one of the NBA's top defensive players. Behind 23 chase-down blocks and a career-high 93 total blocks, he finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting and made his first All-Defensive Team. His all-around game was also as strong as ever as he improved his free throw shooting to a career-high 78 percent and made a league-leading 594 free throws. He was named NBA Player of the Month four times, becoming the second player in league history after Kevin Garnett to do so. He also became the fourth player in NBA history to lead his team in all five major statistical categories (total points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks) in one season. Behind his play and the acquisition of All-Star Mo Williams, the Cavaliers went a franchise record 66–16 and were in the running for the best home record in league history. Cleveland's stellar record and James' terrific averages of 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals, and a career-high 1.2 blocks per game resulted in him becoming the first Cavalier to win the MVP Award.
In the playoffs, Cleveland swept the Pistons in the first round. At the end of Game 4, Detroit's home crowd started an MVP chant for James, who registered 36 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists that night. In total, he averaged 32.0 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 7.5 assists for the series and became the third player in NBA history to average at least 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists for a postseason series. In the next round, the Cavaliers swept the Atlanta Hawks. Cleveland entered the Conference Finals as the favorites against the Orlando Magic but lost Game 1 at home despite one of James' greatest games where he scored 49 points on 66 percent shooting. In Game 2, he hit a memorable game-winner to tie the series at 1–1. The Cavaliers lost the next two games in Orlando before returning home. In Game 5, they won to force the series back to Orlando but lost in Game 6. Following the loss, James immediately left the floor without shaking hands with his opponents. This caused a storm of controversy as many media members viewed the act as unsportsmanlike. James 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."
James attacks the basket in April 2009.
To address their lack of an inside presence against Orlando, the Cavaliers traded for center Shaquille O'Neal before the 2009–10 season. To give James more scoring help, Cleveland also added All-Star Antawn Jamison to their roster at the trading deadline. The re-tooled Cavaliers lineup looked primed for a championship run, finishing the regular season with the league's best record for the second straight year. Along the way, James became the first player to earn at least 2.5 million All-Star Game votes three times and was selected to his sixth consecutive All-Star Game. In a mid-season loss to the Denver Nuggets, he tallied 43 points, 13 rebounds, 15 assists, two steals, and four blocks, becoming the first player to have at least 40 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds in a game since Robertson did so on February 13, 1962. On March 13, he became the youngest player in league history to score 15,000 regular season points during a 92–85 win over the Chicago Bulls. At the end of the season, he was named NBA MVP for the second consecutive year.
James takes a free throw against the Atlanta Hawks
in April 2010.
In the playoffs, the Cavaliers beat the Chicago 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. At the conclusion of the game he walked off the court to a smattering of boos from Cleveland's home crowd, the team having just suffered their worst home playoff loss ever. The Cavaliers 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. The game ended up being his last as a Cavalier.
2010 free agency
James surveys the floor in December 2010 as a member of the Miami Heat
James became an unrestricted free agent at 12:01 am EST on July 1, 2010. During his free agency he was courted by several teams including the Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, Knicks, New Jersey 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, raised $2.5 million for the charity and an additional $3.5 million from advertisement revenue that was donated to other various charities. Just days prior to the special, fellow free agents Bosh and Wade announced that they would also be joining Miami, forming a potent core to build the team's roster around. 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.
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 fans of the team were so angry at James that they 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 that claimed 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." He declined to be more specific. 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–present)
James officially became a member of the Heat on July 9, 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 period "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 of basketball." Despite the change, he continued to perform at his usual high standard. In an early season victory versus the Minnesota Timberwolves he registered a game-high 12 assists, the most ever by a Heat forward. The primary ball handler for most of the game, his performance sparked media debate over whether he was taking over Miami's point guard position. One week later, he achieved a triple-double of 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 14 assists in a loss to the Utah Jazz, his first ever triple-double with the Heat. On December 2, he returned to Cleveland for the first time since departing as a free agent, leading Miami to a win while being booed every time he touched the ball. In the victory, he scored a season-high 38 points. In a well-publicized visit to New York after rejecting their summer free agency bids, he had his second triple-double of the year with 32 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in a blowout win for Miami over the Knicks. In what was his finest performance of the season, he registered 51 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists versus Orlando on February 3, including 23 first quarter points.
James finished the season ranked second in the league in scoring with 26.7 points per game. Wade also finished the year as one of the league's top scorers, and together they combined to score 4,052 points, the most ever by a Heat duo. Entering the playoffs as the Eastern Conference's second seed, Miami breezed past the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round to earn James another rematch with the Celtics in the second round. Behind stellar play from James and Wade, the Heat defeated Boston in five games. In the Conference Finals, Miami met the first-seeded Bulls and 2011 MVP Derrick Rose. The Heat again won in five games with James leading the way, providing strong defense on Rose and reliable clutch play throughout. In the 2011 NBA Finals, Miami stumbled against the Dallas Mavericks, 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 low 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 contributed 6.8 assists and 7.1 rebounds per game, and averaged 23.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game for the postseason as a whole.
James entered the lockout-shortened 2011–12 season with a drastically changed demeanor. Admittedly humbled by Miami's loss to Dallas, he spent the offseason attempting to improve himself as a basketball player and a person, going so far as to work with Hakeem Olajuwon on his post game. The Heat opened the year on a strong note, finishing January with a 16–5 record and matching their best start to a season in franchise history. During that stretch, James averaged 29.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.8 steals, and 37.4 minutes while shooting 55.1 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from three-point range. In the 2012 All-Star Game, he tied Kevin Durant with a game-high 36 points and tied the All-Star Game record of six three-pointers made. At the conclusion of the season, James was named league 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.
Despite a lackluster second half to the season, the Heat entered the playoffs with the second seed in the Eastern Conference. They breezed past the Knicks in the first round before falling behind 2–1 to Indiana 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, becoming only the second player to ever do so in NBA history (besides Elgin Baylor in 1961). 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 lead Miami to victory by scoring 45 points in Game 6, making 19 out of 26 shot attempts for a 73 percent completion rate. He also contributed 15 rebounds and 5 assists, becoming the second player in league history to do so, besides Wilt Chamberlain against the St. Louis Hawks in 1964. The Heat won Game 7 to advance to the 2012 NBA Finals.
In the Finals, the Heat were matched up with the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder, led by young stars Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. Despite holding a 13-point first half lead in Game 1, Miami lost the first game of the series. In Game 2, the Heat again built a double-digit lead, this time holding on and winning to tie the series at 1–1. Back in Miami, the Heat took Game 3 to 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 Miami a three point lead they did not relinquish. In Game 5, James registered his only triple-double of the season with 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists as Miami defeated Oklahoma City for their second ever championship and James' first championship. James was unanimously voted the NBA Finals MVP with averages of 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game. His postseason totals were 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game.