It feels like just yesterday when LeBron James was entering his rookie season in the NBA as the most-hyped, high-school prodigy in league history. He was drafted by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers with the first overall pick and immediately took the league by storm.
Now, James is in the prime of his career, playing with the Miami Heat in his 10th season in the NBA. With nearly a decade under his belt, James has established himself as the best player in the league, one of the most athletically dominant superstars of our generation and arguably the most scrutinized figure in NBA history.
With the amount of accolades that James has racked up over the last nine years, it's hard not to mention his name in the same breath with plenty of the all-time greats.
While he isn't the best player of all time and still has a lot of work to do in his career, there is no question that James' first decade in the NBA has been a thing of beauty. Not only have we witnessed a plethora of breathtaking basketball, but we have also seen LeBron change the league forever before our very eyes.
Here is how James' first decade has been so altering.
You've heard it before, and you will hear it again. LeBron James possesses such a unique and scarce blend of speed, size and power.
At 6'8" and 265 pounds of straight muscle, James is an unbelievably gifted athlete who can beat you with his blazing speed or overpower with you his brute strength. Not to mention, his 40-inch vertical leap factors into that eliteness.
There has never quite been an athlete like James. Sure, legends like Michael Jordan and Julius Erving were athletically superior in their day, but they weren't as physically imposing as James.
James may not be the protocol for athletes in the future, but he redefines what an athlete can be going forward.
James is like the freak offspring of a brand new Hummer and Lamborghini. He can own the game through sheer power and dominance, or he can seduce the game with pure speed, agility and quickness. That type of combination that James has shown, thus far, will change how athleticism is defined in the NBA.
You may hate LeBron James, or you may love him. You may think he's perfect or that he contains fatal flaws. Regardless of how you view James, there is no debate that the King is the most scrutinized player in the history of the NBA.
From the moment he entered the league as an 18-year-old kid to the point where he made his infamous Decision, LeBron has been under a microscope.
It's not like James is simply judged for his game on the court, but his character and off-the-court attributes are constantly under heavy judgment. Questions about character always come into discussion when James is involved.
People look at his ill-advised decision to tell the public he was switching teams (as a free agent) and reactive (but arrogant) speech to the media after the 2011 NBA Finals as horrendous character flaws.
Rather than looking at all the positive things he contributes, such as giving back to the community or a selfless MVP acceptance speech, people focus on relatively insignificant events in the big scheme of things.
However, in an era where social media and voicing an opinion over the Internet became so prevalent, James was the first basketball superstar to feel the wrath of its popularity on a national scale.
From now on, generation superstars like LeBron will be judged and evaluated with similar scrutiny as he has been, and they will be debated and dissected all over the World Wide Web.
As recently as the 1990s, MVP-caliber players like LeBron James rarely switched franchises in the span of their NBA careers.
Not only did they remain with one team for the entirety of their careers, or at least for the greater majority of their careers, they stuck with that original team until they hoisted the coveted Larry O'Brien trophy.
You would never see MVP players leave their team in free agency to sign with another in order to pair up with an All-Star in a different city.
However, James changed that normality when he decided to bolt from Cleveland to Miami in the summer of 2010 to pair up with Dwyane Wade.
Sure, players have done similar acts in the past, but there hasn't been a two-time MVP (in 2010) in the prime of his career, coming off back-to-back, 60-win seasons to depart his original squad for the chance to win rings with other All-Stars.
Since James broke that trend, you see superstars all around the league signing with new teams or demanding a trade to be on a better roster. From Dwight Howard to Chris Paul to Carmelo Anthony, there aren't many stars left who remain on one team for the majority of their careers.
It also must be noted that switching teams is acceptable more so when you win a championship as James accomplished with the Miami Heat last season.
Championship-chasing and super-team forming has become very mainstream in the NBA, and that can be attributed to LeBron's decision in 2010.
Before the LeBron James era, selflessness was when the star of a team distributed the ball, got his teammates involved and did whatever it took to win with what they had.
However, LeBron has redefined what selflessness can mean in the NBA. People talk about James' legacy taking a hit because he chose to align himself with two All-Stars in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but they rarely talk about how much sacrifice that ultimately took.
James truly sacrificed personal statistics and the ego boost of being the only go-to guy and unquestioned face on a respective team.
Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant never did anything like that.
Don't get that wrong; James is still the alpha male on the Miami Heat, but his selflessness is unparalleled. He truly doesn't care about filling up the stat sheet or being a human-highlight reel every night. He only cares if those things convert to W's.
The King saw an opportunity to make something special in Miami, and he didn't worry about losing face, numbers, fans, money and touches. He put winning on the highest pedestal and sacrificed key factors that other superstars of his ability wouldn't have done.
That's not to say Jordan, Bryant and other alpha dogs didn't make sacrifices—they wouldn't be successful without sacrifices—but none of them did it in the same manner as James.
Because of that fact, selflessness will be viewed differently from now on.
Throughout the existence of the NBA, players have been strictly defined by a position and how that position defines their role and actions on the court. Centers are supposed to rebound and defend, points guards are supposed to distribute and scorers are supposed to score.
Well, the physical anomaly of LeBron James has changed the rigidness of a standard position. James is technically a small forward, but he is more so a basketball player who can do anything and everything. There really isn't one position on the floor that you would feel uncomfortable assigning LeBron to.
He has proven his ability to defend guards, forwards and centers multiple times, while also showcasing his talent to dominate offensively against any type of player who is guarding him.
His 6'8", 265-pound frame is too physically imposing to be contained on offense and too physically imposing to be edged on defense.
In addition, LeBron's versatility enables him to fill up a stat sheet in literally all categories. James holds impressive career numbers of 27.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.8 blocks, per game, to go along with 75-percent free-throw shooting and a 48.4 field-goal percentage in nearly 10 seasons in the NBA.
James' numbers rival Michael Jordan's 30.1 points, 6.2 boards, 5.3 assists and 2.3 steals per game.
The point is not to compare James to MJ but to portray that James still puts up Hall of Fame-worthy numbers even as a player who is required to play all positions on the floor and doesn't focus on one defined area.
Whether it's acting as point guard and getting his teammates involved to spark the offense or acting as the wing scorer who is creating his own offense or having his way in the post as a big man, James truly defines a position-less NBA star.
With James' All-NBA first-team qualities on both sides of the ball, as well as his unique versatility, the responsibilities of a franchise player in the NBA have changed.