In December 2002, "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" was dominating the box office, the most likely song you'd hear on the radio was Eminem's new hit "Lose Yourself," and NBA fans were excited to see the Rockets no.1 pick, Yao Ming, finally in action. But on December 22nd, all that became secondary because the most hyped high-school basketball game ever took place in the Ohio University arena, the Convocation Center.
Despite the fact the no.1 ranked high-school team was playing, that's not why the cameras and the 11,523 spectators were there. They were there because the underdog team had "the next Michael Jordan" playing. A 17-year-old kid by the name of LeBron James. Dick Vitale called the media frenzy around the young man "a runaway freight train," a train he and his employer worked hard to create. This was the first nationally televised regular-season high-school basketball game on ESPN since 1989.
Some courtside seats went for as much as $100, and TV satellite trucks were lined up outside the arena, all a testament to James' status as the most publicized high school basketball player in history and, some allege, the most talented prep player of all time as well.
"If he's half as good as all I've heard about him, he's going to be one special athlete!"
The underdog team came up with a big upset win - 65-45. LeBron didn't disappoint with 31 points, 13 rebounds & 6 assists while shooting 13/25. Oak Hill used to win regularly against St. Vincent St. Mary, but their star player was off at Syracuse, on his way to an NCAA championship. Carmelo Anthony was making a name for himself and would be in the conversation for the no.1 pick in the upcoming draft.
Back then, he was considered as good as LeBron, with one major advantage - a great shot. Most of the 13 field goals LeBron made in this game were actually layups and dunks. He would seriously start working on his shot in a decade after JJ Barea baffled him in the NBA Finals.
Players like Zion may walk into the NBA with a million followers on social media and a lot of hype and expectations around them. But no one came close to the level of attention and expectations LeBron James had on his shoulders long before he could buy a can of beer. You may love him or hate him, but one thing is undisputable - LeBron has handled the pressure of being in the spotlight as well as anyone has in the history of sports. And few have had such a bright spotlight on them for such a long time.
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