LeBron James’ lasting legacy in full effect in Year 21
By Zafir Nagji, Staff Writer
In December 1984, in the small American town of Akron, Ohio, a young woman named Gloria James gave birth to a boy. Only 16 years old at the time and without the baby’s father in the picture, Gloria wondered how she would be able to raise her son on her own. Little did she know that her son, LeBron, would become one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
Now, in present day, LeBron James, 38, is the oldest active player in the NBA and is entering his 21st season in the League. During his two-decade long tenure in the NBA, James has amassed record after record on his way to achieving ‘greatest of all time’ (G.O.A.T) status and continues to play at an unprecedented level for someone in such a late stage of their athletic career.
James’ journey to undisputed greatness comes with a long lineage of championships, awards and records—and it all started at St. Vincent–St. Mary High School in his hometown of Akron.
After a dominant high school basketball career that attracted national coverage at his games which dubbed him as ‘The Chosen One,’ James skipped college and took his talents straight to the NBA. Drafted first-overall to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers in the star-studded 2003 NBA Draft, some of his teammates were skeptical of how much impact an 18-year-old fresh out of high school could have in the world’s most talented basketball league.
This skepticism about James’ talents didn’t last long, as the freshman was named the Rookie of the Year in his first season in the NBA. In just his third year, James had already dragged the Cavaliers to the Eastern Conference semi-finals and was named the team’s lone All-Star. A year later, in 2007, he carried his Cleveland teammates on his back to the NBA Finals with superhuman efforts, including a 48-point explosion in Game 5 against a dominant Detroit Pistons.
Unable to win an NBA Championship in his first stint in Cleveland, James was still named the League’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 2009, was the scoring champion in 2008, made six-consecutive NBA All-Star Teams from 2004-2010 and led his team to five consecutive playoff appearances, including one NBA Finals appearance in 2007.
After seven seasons in Cleveland, playing on a team that could not attract more elite talent to help him, James, to the displeasure of Cavaliers fans, migrated to the Miami Heat where he teamed up with his best friend Dwyane Wade and five-time All-Star, Chris Bosh. Nicknamed ‘The Heatles,’ this big three looked nearly unstoppable.
Even though they suffered a disappointing NBA Finals loss in their first season together, LeBron took the reins of the team in his second season. By the end of his four-year run in Miami, James was indisputably the best basketball player in the world.
During his time with the Heat, James won two MVP awards in back-to-back years (2012, 2013) along with his first two NBA Championships (2012, 2013).
After taking his talents to South Beach, James returned to Cleveland in 2014, where he promised his home state of Ohio a championship as he joined top talents, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
After his two co-stars were injured in the 2014 NBA Playoffs, James’ Cavaliers would lose in their first NBA Finals appearance against the Golden State Warriors. During this playoff campaign, James became the first player in NBA history to lead both teams in points, rebounds and assists during the finals. In all four years of James’ second stint in Cleveland, the ‘Cavs’ made the NBA Finals against the Warriors. But, it would be in the 2016 NBA Playoffs where James’ kept his promise to the Cleveland crowd, as the Cavaliers became NBA Champions after the team, willed on by James, came back from being down, 3-1, in the seven-game series.
In his four-year-long second stint in Cleveland, James made four-consecutive NBA Finals appearances from 2014-2018, won his third-career NBA Championship and Finals MVP in 2016 and, in 2018, and tied Jerry West for the most 40-point games in a single post-season run with eight.
In July 2018, Magic Johnson and his picture-perfect smile famously flew to James’ Los Angeles home in the hopes of convincing ‘King James’ to join the Los Angeles Lakers—the organization he is still with today.
And, his Lakers career could not have been scripted better by Hollywood itself. After struggling with a groin injury in his first year with the team, James won his fourth NBA title and Finals MVP in 2020. James’ legacy was further cemented in 2023, when he became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer by breaking a record that had stood almost 40 years. He also averaged the most points per game for a player in their 18th, 19th and 20th career year, and is on pace to set the record for a player in their 21st year as he currently averages 24.3 points-per-game.
James’ story isn’t finished, either. According to James and his wife, Savannah, the 38-year-old plans to play in the NBA until his sons, Bronny and Bryce, make their way into the League. If this is true, James will continue his career for three more seasons, minimum.
Meaning, NBA fans should enjoy watching him play while his career lasts, as the League will be an unimaginably different place without the kid from Akron.