To build a rapport with a superstar athlete, you must first invest the necessary time and diligence into not only the craft of reporting, but also in getting to know them year in, and year out, season after season.
I first met LeBron James in December, 2002. He was a senior in high school, and over the course of the ensuing months, he would fulfill his destiny and become the fresh new face of the League. It’s mind-boggling, that here we are, 16 years later, and he continues to not only achieve at a high level, but he is also playing some of the best basketball of his decorated career.
There are a few things that I have observed in covering James, which make his game second to none. His basketball intelligence, photographic memory, team first mentality, and overall health set him apart from his peers.
Seven straight Finals appearances tends to numb the brain on how remarkable it is to excel at the professional level for that long. I recently spoke with him, first during the Cavs’ morning shootaround, and then later after the game that night. Sal Palantonio of ESPN ventured into the Cavs’ locker room and LeBron was genuinely excited to meet him. I watched as the two greeted one another and talked football (Ohio State and Philadelphia Eagles).
I asked Sal how it felt to be recognized by one of the game’s best players, and he expressed sincere gratitude in saying, “It was pretty cool because I really respect him you know…and he’s one of the most recognizable faces in the world, and for him to call me out like that, is the ultimate respect…and to talk football with him—he knows football, he knows sports—I found him to be an in-depth, interesting guy to talk to and it was fun and cool. It was nice, it was nice to be recognized.”
The following is my conversation with LeBron and his thoughts on family, basketball, and the greatest game dunkers of all time.
Do you remember the first NBA game you ever went to…attended?
I’m surprised, you remember everything.
Yeah, but I’ve been to a couple Cavs games when I was in high school. I don’t remember which was the first one. I don’t remember who they were playing?
So it was a Cavs game?
Which one of them stands out?
Yeah, I was at the game when MJ [Michael Jordan] hit the game winner for the Wizards…2002—it was either my junior or senior year. He [Michael Jordan] hit the game-winner at the top of the key.
Were you inspired immediately and go out and play after that?
When your hero is making [shots]…you know, doing what he does, [who] you idolized your whole life…for me to be there live and witness it, it was pretty cool.
When did it hit you that you could play in this League, how old were you and what grade were you in?
Probably my junior year…my junior or senior year.
And what was it…playing in the summer circuit?
No. It was umm…people saying that if I came out after my junior year, I’d be the No. 1 pick in the draft. That’s when I knew I could be a pro.
You were Tweeting about Shawn Kemp and like, how if he was in today’s NBA…social media…like expand on that.
The REIGNMAN!!!! Sheesh he was a monster man!! So underrated. Could u imagine him in this social media space we in with his plays/swag. 💥💥 https://t.co/nK3mIfjUR4
— LeBron James (@KingJames) November 26, 2017
I think with social media, everything is so instant and people go crazy for certain moments. If you just look at Kemp’s résumé and Kemp’s portfolio of plays…I couldn’t imagine that not being on Twitter and Instagram right now…what people would be saying. Not only was he a super leaper…he did it with flair and swag, too. He just had a swag about him, too. I mean you got GP [Gary Payton] throwing those lobs…you talk about Lob City with the Clippers a couple years ago, but like GP and Kemp was doing that back in the day—late ’80s to ’90s—you know what I’m saying. It’s fun to see that type of stuff when they’re able to go back into the archives and bring it to the world for people to see how great some of our players were back in the day.
One last question: Your production company, the Uninterrupted, made a movie about Vince Carter. Who would you say is arguably the best in-game dunker?
Yeah it’s Vince [Carter] and Shawn Kemp. I mean you have Vince [Carter], Shawn Kemp, and MJ…you know those three for sure man. They did stuff that you would only try in practice with nobody around.