You may think there was no bigger or more hyped-up prospect than Zion Williamson a few years ago, but the presence, aura, and expectations surrounding an 18-year old LeBron James back in 2003 are unmatched for any prospect in NBA history. "The Chosen One" had one of the most notorious high-school careers, establishing his name in the basketball world early and putting a target on his back.
LeBron came with sky-high expectations into the league, but he crushed those and proved he would be a once-in-a-generation type of player from the jump. Fast forward to today, and LeBron is a 4x time champion, 17x All-Star,4x MVP, and holder of numerous other records and accolades, being the undisputed face of the league for the past 15-20 years. You can say he smashed all the expectations and even more, but still, outside all the great stuff LeBron has done in his career on and off the court, he is to this day the most hated player in the NBA also.
Obviously, with greatness comes criticism, but LeBron has brought a lot of the hate on himself, with some controversial off-court statements and moves, mixed with the sometimes theatrical style of play. The flopping and the complaining, especially later in his career, doesn't sit well with most of the NBA fandom, as now many of his fans turned their back on "The King."
One of James's loudest critics and known TV personality Charles Barkley is never shy about calling out Lebron for his on and off-court actions. As a player, Charles was as confrontational as great, and that demeanor has carried over to his post-playing career, where he often dishes out controversial and harsh statements. LeBron has been on the other end of those statements a couple of times, but a few years back on ESPN First Take, Charles shared a great compliment for LeBron and his legacy:
"I think LeBron James, what he's accomplished is the greatest thing I've probably ever seen in sports. I've said that before. For an 18-year old kid to come into the NBA, and he's the only one who has ever been really good at 18, as great as Kobe was, he struggled his first few years, Kevin Garnett, all those guys. What LeBron James has done... live up to the hype, never get into a stitch of trouble, is one of the greatest things I've ever seen in my life."
Charles Barkley, ESPN First Take
If LeBron has done something right from the beginning of his career, it is his reputation. A family man, never involved in any scandals or trouble, focused on making a better future for the young kids coming up in the world, LeBron has been a real example of a role model for the kids. You may hate his game, on-court behavior, and political views, but you can't argue that LeBron is a great guy.
Charles knows this, as he showed class by paying his respect for LeBron's legacy no matter how many times he showed disagreement with his actions. After all, he was the polar opposite of LeBron during his career, getting into trouble many times and stating himself he is not a role model. It is a total contrast between two great players and people who obviously still respect each other their differences.