Lebron James’ rise


Courtesy of Time

During his second stint with the Cavaliers, LeBron James led the team to its first ever championship in 2016.

Akhil Medarametla, Contributing Reporter

LeBron James is arguably one of the world’s best and most popular athletes, thanks to his impressive feats on the court. He’s a four-time NBA champion, four-time NBA Finals MVP, four-time NBA MVP, 16-time NBA All-Star and this list of accomplishments goes on and on. However, not as many are familiar with his journey, his off-court struggles and his contributions to society.

James was born in Akron, Ohio on Dec. 30, 1984 to Gloria James, who became a mother at only 16 years old. For much of his childhood, James and his family faced poverty and street violence, and struggled at times to function. His father, Anthony McClelland, was an ex-convict, which left James’ mother to raise him as best as she could as a single mother. 


As a kid, James started showing tremendous skill in basketball, which was highlighted by his natural speed, strength and stature. Around the age of nine, James’ mother sent him to live with his basketball coach, Frankie Walker, when she learned that James was skipping school and had nearly dropped out of fourth grade. Walker took James into his family and treated him as his own. Living with Walker gave James structure and meaning not only to his life at home and school, but to his athletics as well. When James went back to live with his mother after a year and a half with Walker, financial problems arose. To deal with this, Gloria sent James to live with Walker again.  The Walker family then decided to help Gloria pay for rent, allowing James to finally return to live with his mother.

As he grew older, James began receiving recognition throughout Akron for his talents in basketball and football. With support from his teammates and coaches, James became a standout on Saint Vincent-Saint Mary High School’s (SVSM) football and basketball teams. With each passing season, James garnered greater statewide and national recognition. Most notably, Michael Jordan invited him to a private workout where he scrimmaged the likes of Juwan Howard, Penny Hardaway, Michael Finley and Antoine Walker. 

After his standout junior football season where James and SVSM lost in the state final, he turned his attention to the hardwood and pursued basketball full-time. James had kept a B-average in high school, which meant he’d have more agency to choose his college. At the same time, Nike and Adidas were both competing to sign him as an athlete. With this in the back of his head, James went into his junior season as fierce as ever and took SVSM on another state finals run. Although his team lost, James garnered even more attention from the NBA.

In his senior season, James and his team bounced back and became state champions. Rather than go to college, James decided to declare for the NBA draft straight out of high school and was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft.

Despite having a losing record and failing to make the playoffs in his first season in the league, James had a solid rookie season with the Cavaliers and received the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, becoming the first Cleveland Cavalier to do so. From the years of 2004 to 2008, James began to establish himself as the future of the NBA.

In his second year in the league, James was selected to his first All-Star team, even though the Cavs failed to make the playoffs for a second year in a row. In the 2005-2006 season, he contributed to the team’s first playoff appearance since 1998. The Cavs made it as far as the second round, beating the Washington Wizards before losing to the Detroit Pistons. In his fourth and fifth seasons, James reasserted his dominance, averaging above 25 points per game. LeBron led the Cavs to the NBA Finals in 2007, but he struggled to score and the team was swept by the San Antonio Spurs. 

Between 2008 and 2010, the NBA saw a new side of LeBron James. In the 2008-2009 season, he led the Cavs to a franchise record 66-16 and won the NBA MVP that year after posting impressive averages of 28.4 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game and 7.2 rebounds per game. LeBron took the team to the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Orlando Magic before falling to them in six games. 

During the 2009-2010 season, his points per game average reached 29.7 and his assists also increased to 8.6 per game. He once again took the Cavaliers to the playoffs. The team cruised past the Chicago Bulls in the first round, but ultimately lost to the Boston Celtics in the second round. This season was also another MVP season for LeBron.

After the conclusion of the 2009-2010 season, LeBron became an unrestricted free agent and he made the shocking—and heavily broadcasted—decision to leave for the Miami Heat. LeBron spent the next 4 seasons in Miami, winning back-to-back NBA Championships in 2012 and 2013 and two Finals MVPs  alongside Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, two of the most elite players in the league. 

LeBron became a free agent again at the end of the 2013-2014 season. This time, he decided to bring his talents back to the Cavaliers. He once again formed a powerful trio, this time with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. 

After spending their first season working through the struggles of adjusting to different roles and dealing with multiple injuries, the Cavaliers made it to the NBA Finals in 2015. However, the Cavs lost to the up-and-coming Golden State Warriors in 6 games. 

Though the Cavaliers faced some difficulties the following season, including a mid-season firing of head coach David Blatt, they steadily made their way to the top of the Eastern Conference with 57 wins. For a sixth straight season, LeBron made it to the NBA Finals and once again, they faced the Golden State Warriors. 

This Finals series proved to be one of the best NBA Finals of all time. The Cavaliers came back from the brink of elimination after being down 3-1 to beat the Warriors on their home court in game seven, sealing LeBron’s third NBA Championship and his first with his hometown Cavaliers. 

Each year afterwards, however, the Cavaliers progressively worsened. Tension arose between the organization and LeBron for putting too much of a load on LeBron. The following season, the team traded star point guard Kyrie Irving to the Celtics, which created more issues with team chemistry. 

Despite these problems, however, both the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 seasons were a repeat of the previous years, as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors met in the NBA Finals for the third and then fourth times in a row. Unfortunately, the Cavaliers were on the losing end of both matchups. These failures led to LeBron opting out of his contract following the 2018 season and signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, with whom he recently won the 2020 NBA championship.

It’s clear that LeBron James is one of the greatest players ever to have stepped onto the hardwood, but his basketball career won’t be the only thing he’s remembered for. Off the court, James has committed a lot of his time, money and energy to local communities. From “The Decision” TV program, James donated  $2.5 million to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to help fund their after-school programs. With his wife, Savannah, James has made generous donations to the Children’s Defense Fund and OneXOne, organizations that focus on supporting young children who face hunger, education, water and health issues. 

One of his greatest accomplishments was creating the I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, to address the steep dropout rate of high schoolers. After growing up in the same environment, James wanted to create a school where kids of similar upbringings could have a chance at education and life by providing a safe, nurturing place to learn. 

James started the school in 2018 with the third and fourth grades and by 2022, the school is aiming to teach grades one through eight. This venture was special to James because of his personal connection to the city and situation the children face. For him, it was more than just a financial venture. 

As showcased on his social media, he makes frequent appearances with his wife at the school and he takes the time to connect with the students. A notable aspect of the I Promise School is that James partnered with the University of Akron to provide free college tuition to every student that graduates from the I Promise School. James’ foundation has already pledged close to $42 million dollars in scholarships. 

Aside from his philanthropic contributions, James has been an outspoken political activist. Back in 2008, James donated $20,000 to a committee that supported Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. In the same year, James gathered a crowd of around 20,000 individuals at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse to view Barack Obama’s “American Stories” 30-minute segment. 

James is also famously known for his opposition to former President Donald Trump. Throughout Trump’s four years as president, James had opposed the president’s tweets, policies and statements. 

Simultaneously, James emerged as a major advocate for Colin Kaepernick, who was ousted from the NFL because of his national anthem protests. James has tweeted about, been interviewed about and even worn Kaepernick’s clothing on several occasions to show his solidarity with Kaepernick’s cause.

Throughout 2020, James has fervently supported the Black Lives Matter movement and the “More Than A Vote” campaign, where he advocated for members of the African American community to get out and vote.

LeBron James has cemented his status as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, but he’s become an equally profound advocate for his communities and icon of modern political activism as well.