LeBron James became an immediate star after skipping college to join the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. He led the Miami Heat to NBA titles in 2012 and 2013, and won a third championship with Cleveland in 2016.
Born in Ohio in 1984, LeBron James garnered national attention as the top high school basketball player in the country. With his unique combination of size, athleticism and court vision, he became one of the premier players in the NBA for the Cleveland Cavaliers. After leading the Miami Heat to titles in 2012 and 2013, he returned to Cleveland and helped the franchise claim its first championship in 2016.
High School Basketball Star
Professional athlete LeBron Raymone James was born on December 30, 1984, in Akron, Ohio. At an early age, he showed a natural talent for basketball. James was recruited by St. Vincent-St. Mary High School to join their basketball team in 1999.
As a freshman, James averaged 18 points per game. He helped the team to a Division III state title by scoring 25 points in the championship game. Word of his advanced basketball skills spread, and James received several honors for his performance. As a high school sophomore, he was chosen for the USA Today All-USA First Team. James was the first sophomore ever selected for this award. His team also won the Division III state title for the second year in a row.
The following school year, James was named PARADE magazine’s High School Boys Basketball Player of the Year and Gatorade Player of the Year. Following the end of his junior year, James was such a strong player that he contemplated going pro.
Deciding to finish his education, James had a tremendous senior year on the court. He averaged 31.6 points per game, helping his team clinch their third state title. The team also earned the top national ranking that year. Overall, James scored 2,657 points, 892 rebounds and 523 assists during his four years at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. He would soon emerge as one of the National Basketball Association’s leading players.
Career With Cleveland Cavaliers
With his impressive record, it was no surprise that James was the first player picked in the 2003 NBA Draft. The Cleveland Cavaliers signed the powerful young forward, and he proved to be a valuable addition to the then-struggling franchise. The team had ended the previous season in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Around this time, James also signed several endorsement deals, including one with Nike for $90 million.
During the 2003-04 season, James made history when he became the first member of the Cavalier franchise to win the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. He also became the youngest player—at only 20 years old—to receive this honor. Additionally, James, averaging 20 points per game at this time, became one of only three rookies to accomplish this feat, putting him in the same company as Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson.
During the summer of 2004, James made his Olympic debut at the Summer Games in Athens, Greece, as part of the U.S. Olympic basketball team. He and his teammates won bronze medals after defeating Lithuania. Argentina took home the gold after beating Italy in the finals.
Outside of his basketball career, James went through some changes in his personal life around this time. He became a father for the first time in October 2004, when he and girlfriend Savannah Brinson welcomed a son, LeBron Jr.
James continued to excel professionally in the NBA the following season, upping his average points per game to 27.2. He made NBA history again in 2005, when he became the youngest player to score more than 50 points in one game. He was selected for the NBA All-Star Game for the first time, a feat he would repeat several times over the next few seasons.
In 2006, James helped his team defeat the Washington Wizards in the first round of playoff action. From there, the Cavaliers took on the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference semifinals. James scored an average of 26.6 per game in this postseason match-up, but it wasn’t enough to secure victory for his team. While his team wasn’t at the top of rankings, James himself continued to receive special recognition for his abilities. He was named the Most Valuable Player in the NBA All-Star Game in 2006. That same year, James reached a new contract agreement with the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers proved to be stronger competitors the following season, defeating Detroit to win the Eastern Conference. In the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, however, the Cavaliers lost their championship bid in four consecutive games. Also during this time, James became a father for the second time. His girlfriend, Savannah Brinson, gave birth to their son, Bryce Maximus, in June of 2007.
During the 2007-08 season, James continued to help the Cavaliers improve their standing in the Eastern Conference. The team made it to the semifinals, where they were defeated by the Boston Celtics in seven games. In terms of individual performance, James had a stellar year, outperforming such rival players as Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson by scoring an average of 30 points per game, the highest average in the NBA regular season.
Career With Miami Heat
That summer, James traveled to Beijing, China, to play with the likes of Bryant, Jason Kidd and Dwyane Wade on the U.S. Olympic basketball team. This time around the U.S. team brought home the gold after defeating Spain in the final round.
Early in the 2008-09 season, sports journalists and fans began talking about James’s future in the sport. He had the option to become a free agent in 2010, and there was much discussion as to where James would end up. Some journalists identified the New York Knicks as a potential suitor for the rising player. James made several references to his impending free agent status, but he was sure to downplay the matter. “I am focused on the team that I am on right now and winning a championship … I don’t think about making a change at this point,” James told reporters.
Shortly after becoming a free agent, however, James announced that he would be joining the Miami Heat for the 2010-11 season. His fans in Cleveland were less than pleased, and many considered his departure a betrayal to his hometown. Soon after James’s announcement, Cleveland Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert wrote an open letter declaring James’s decision as “selfish,” “heartless” and a “cowardly betrayal.” Unfazed, James finished second in the league during his first season with the Heat, scoring 26.7 points per game.
The 2011-12 season also saw major success for James and the Miami Heat; with his team’s victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals, the superstar forward finally earned his first title. In the clinching Game 5, James scored 26 points, and had 11 rebounds and 13 assists. “I made a difficult decision to leave Cleveland but I understood what my future was about,” James told FOX Sports following the game. “I knew we had a bright future [in Miami].”
James competed at his third Olympic Games in 2012, at the Summer Olympics in London, along with teammates Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthonyand Kobe Bryant, as well as several other top players. The U.S. basketball team took the gold medal—James’s second consecutive Olympic gold.
During the 2012-13 season, James made NBA history yet again: On January 16, 2013, at age 28, he became the youngest player to score 20,000 points, succeeding Kobe Bryant of the Lakers—who accomplished this feat when he was 29—and becoming only the 38th player in NBA history to achieve this distinction. James made a jump shot the final seconds of the game, bringing his scoring total 20,001 and leading the Heat to a 92-75 victory over the Warriors.
Success followed the Heat to the end of the 2012-13 season: Following a hard-fought, six-game series against the Indiana Pacers to win the Eastern Conference, Miami outlasted the San Antonio Spurs in seven games to win its second consecutive NBA championship.
Return to Cavaliers
At the culmination of the 2013-14 season, Miami returned to the NBA Finals to face off against the Spurs again, this time losing to San Antonio after five games. In July of 2014, after opting out of his contract with the Heat and considering other teams, James announced that he would be returning to the Cavaliers.
Hampered by back and knee problems, James missed 13 of 82 regular-season games in 2014-15. However, he was as dominant as ever when healthy, averaging 25.3 points and 7.4 assists per game. James led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, becoming the first player in nearly 50 years to reach the championship round in five consecutive seasons. However, injuries to star teammates Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving damaged his hopes of claiming a third title, and the Cavaliers lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games.
The following year, the Cavs overcame the distraction of a midseason coaching change and breezed through the playoffs to earn a rematch with the Warriors, marking the sixth straight NBA Finals appearance for King James. In perhaps the crowning achievement of his career, he led his team back from a 3-1 deficit, scoring 41 points in both Games 5 and 6, before recording a triple double in Game 7 to give the Cavs their first championship in franchise history.
Voted Finals MVP, James said, “I came back to bring a championship to our city. I knew what I was capable of doing. I knew what I learned in the last couple years that I was gone, and I knew if I had to—when I came back—I knew I had the right ingredients and the right blueprint to help this franchise get back to a place that we’ve never been. That’s what it was all about.”
Outside of the NBA, James has worked to help others. He established the LeBron James Family Foundation in 2004, along his mother Gloria, to help out children and single-parent families in need. Among its many programs, the organization builds playgrounds in economically disadvantaged areas and hosts an annual bike-a-thon.