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16-year-old LeBron's pickup game against NBA All-Stars “He was being the LeBron you know today.”


Tim Grover’s Hoops The Gym was the iconic trainer’s antidote to modern workouts, as well as players’ go-to place during the offseason. “Basketball heaven,” as Maverick Carter describes it, became headquarters for the league’s pre-draft testing while also hosting a myriad of NBA scrimmages. LeBron James partook in one as a 16-year-old kid going up against grown men.

While playing in an AAU tournament in Chicago, Carter was approached by Greg Ryan – the guy who worked with Tim Grover at Hoops. Ryan was the one who invited the Akron natives for a weekend of workouts in Chicago’s iconic basketball venue during the NBA offseason.

“During those days, all the pros would come in. Antoine Walker, Ron Artest, Jamal Crawford. All the pros: Paul Pierce was there, Penny Hardaway, Jerry Stackhouse. They would start rolling into this gym. It was like basketball heaven. They would work out for like an hour, and then they'd play. They'd just play pickup for an hour.”

Maverick Carter, In the Zone

At first, LeBron couldn’t make the cut. Guys knew who he was, but that’s about it. They didn’t care about a 16-year-old kid, nor how talented of a prospect he was. It was about putting in the work and staying in game shape for the season to come. Everything else was a nuisance.

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That’s until that nuisance was called up by Grover to actually go up against pro players. A teenage phenom joined Guys like Pierce, Stackhouse, and Walker in what was LeBron’s NBA initiation rite.

“He was out there playing, and if you watch the game — he wasn't, like, dominating, but he didn't stick out. You didn't go, like, 'Oh, there's a kid out there.' It was, like, 'Oh, there's just another player out there.'”

Maverick Carter, In the Zone

Defensively, James wasn’t there yet. Even when he got into the NBA, it took him some time to find his groove as a defensive player. But according to Carter, a 16-year-old LeBron had no trouble matching the NBA guys on the offensive side of the floor.

“If you can pass, you can play. And he could pass, and he had the size and the ability to get into the paint, and he got a couple of buckets. He was getting buckets and making plays and kind of being the LeBron you know today.”

Maverick Carter, In the Zone

It would be interesting to hear how James remembers his first time going up against NBA players and what it did to his confidence. But just the fact that he was able to be the equal of NBA All-Stars at 16 is seriously impressive.

The guy really was destined for greatness.

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