Never before in the history of the National Basketball Association had so much been expected from one player—let alone an eighteen-year-old kid, as it when LeBron James entered the NBA Draft in 2003.
By far the most-hyped and popular high-school basketball player ever, LeBron was expected to come into the NBA and be the savior to a league that had been losing popularity over the few seasons preceding James' entry into the draft.
This eighteen-year-old high school graduate from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio was expected to come in, dominate from day one, and become an instant superstar.
How did LeBron meet those expectations you ask? By surpassing each and every one laid forth by anyone.
Many expert analysts cannot believe how well he has done, or that he has become so great, so quick. He became the instant leader of a Cleveland Cavalier franchise that had been cellar-dwellers of the Eastern Conference for many years, and which had not made the playoffs since the days of Craig Ehlo and Michael Jordan.
Cleveland did not make the playoffs in LeBron's rookie season, but have been there each year since, including an appearance in the 2007 NBA Finals. A perennial MVP candidate, LeBron has finished among the top finalists for MVP in in each of the past three seasons, finishing second in 2006. And with career averages of 27.3 points, 6.6 assists and 6.9 rebounds per game there is a pretty good chance that he will find his name being mentioned in every MVP conversation again this year.
But let's talk about this newer and more-improved version of LeBron James, the one that seemingly refuses to let his team lose whenever the game is close in the fourth quarter. Going into the 2006-2007 season, the biggest knock on LeBron James was that he could not win, that he just didn't have that killer instinct needed to take over a game and have his team come out on top. Even close friend Dwyane Wade called LeBron out on his ability to finish a game.
Once again, how did LeBron respond to these critics? Well, let's go back to Game Five of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron scored twenty-nine of the team's final thirty points, and the final twenty-five in a row to end the game in the fourth quarter and both overtimes to lead the Cavaliers to a victory.
And by the looks of what LeBron did last season, he really enjoyed taking that game over in Detroit. He dominated the ends of games all season long, averaging a league-leading 9.3 points per game in the fourth quarter, including two away games in which hecklers in the stands tried throwing LeBron off his game—but instead just fueled him to go harder, resulting in losses for the home team on both occasions.
LeBron went from someone who could not finish off a game to a man who lives and plays the game for the fourth quarter. It is almost as if LeBron coasts through the first three quarters just to keep Cleveland close to their opponent, so that he can come out for those final twelve minutes, give everything he has and lead the Cavaliers to another victory.
Whether it be shooting the ball from the perimeter, getting to the foul line, finding an open teammate, or throwing down one of his many thunderous dunks, LeBron knows exactly what it takes to do in order to win a game that is close down the stretch.
Now, with another season getting ready to tip-off and number 23 still running the show in Cleveland, the Cavaliers may be ready to make another run at that elusive NBA Championship and by season's end LeBron will be hearing those familiar chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!"
The future is now, and at twenty-three years of age he's going to be here for a while, only getting better with each added year of experience and practice. The future is King James.
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