“Sebastian Telfair and LeBron James are about to rule the world.”

“Sebastian Telfair and LeBron James are about to rule the world.”

You may not remember this, but people used to buy magazines. There were some quite good ones about basketball too. If you do remember it, then you probably have a box of SLAM Magazine somewhere in your place. While the world went online (and so did SLAM), there’s still something magical and educational about going through old magazine issues. 

For instance, take the August 2004 issue. The cover has two high school players “about to rule the world.” SLAM was 50/50 on that prediction, but at the time you’d have a legitimate case saying Sebastian Telfair has as much chance to become a great player as LeBron does. Yesterday, he was sentenced to over three years in prison for weapons charges.

Telfair was a star in high school; he led Lincoln High to three New York City championships and a state title. When it came time to pick a college, Telfair could name anyone in the country. He opted for Louisville and coach Rick Pitino. But, after a fatal shooting occurred at the apartment complex where his family lived, he decided to go straight to the NBA. 

Telfair was selected 6th by the Portland Trail Blazers, and that’s where the similarities with LeBron stopped. He played only two years in Portland, not a good sign for a rookie. After that, he played for: Celtics, Timberwolves, Clippers, Cavs, Timberwolves, Suns and Raptors. After that, he went to China where he played for a year, then moved back to the NBA and played for the Thunder in 2014. That turned out to be his last stop in the NBA; Telfair went back to China and played for three different teams. 

His story is the prime example of “too much – too soon.” As a young kid coming from Brooklyn, Telfair arrived in the NBA with all the hype, a book, a movie and a lot of expectation. Here’s Telfair looking back on his career for SLAM:

“And college definitely would’ve helped me,” he goes on. “I didn’t have the structure. And I would’ve gotten an opportunity to get out of New York for a year without having money. It would’ve filtered a lot of BS that I dealt with early. So I can’t say that I wish I didn’t go to college. If I had the opportunity again, I’d take it. But I made my own decision. I don’t have no fingers to point. I don’t have a sneaker contract to blame. I don’t have nobody to blame.”

To come a full circle, LeBron is now with the Lakers, and Telfair is going to prison. He got pulled over for driving without his lights on and illegally parking. The police officers smelled marijuana, which they found in the car, and during the search three loaded guns, a submachine gun, ammunition, extended magazines, and a ballistic vest. All the weapons are his and legally licensed in Florida, but Telfair was pulled over in New York.

History constantly reminds us that we can’t know who of the most talented players in a class will make it, and most often it’s the off-court parts of the equation that have the biggest impact on somebody’s success or failure. 

That is probably the biggest achievement and most overlooked part of LeBron’s success story. From a SLAM cover in 2004 to the Lakers in 2019, he has been nothing but a model father, role model, and citizen. All that helped him be The King. 

Photo courtesy of SLAM Magazine