How 'Kid from Akron' LeBron James Came to Rule the NBA

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJuly 11, 2014

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And just like that, LeBron James is heading home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, which he announced through Sports Illustrated by penning a well-crafted essay (as told by Lee Jenkins) on his thoughts and reasoning to the decision.

Writers and fans had been salivating at the idea of another free-agent decision spectacle. The interest level in James reached heights we'd never seen. How the heck did this "kid from Akron" become so much larger than life?

Whether you're a traditionalist or a new-school NBA fan, few things in basketball are as captivating as complete individual dominance. 

LeBron James has been dominating since he was a teenager. And the basketball community has been drawn to it from day one. 

Sports Illustrated dubbed him "The Chosen One" at 17 years old. ESPN even started televising his high school games, which was unprecedented at the time.

"I came here with high expectations,'' Bill Walton told Tom Withers of The Associated Press via Cincinnati.com in 2002 after he called one of James' nationally broadcasted high school games. ''I'm leaving more impressed than I could have ever believed. This guy has the complete package. What I saw tonight was a special basketball player. It was an eye-opening experience for me.''

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James dropped 31 points in a 20-point win over the No. 1 ranked school (Oak Hill Academy) in the country that night. '

'I've had great players. He's the best I've ever seen," Oak Hill coach Steve Smith added. 

''His understanding of how to play, his explosiveness, his size and his passing ability. He's so reminiscent of Magic (Johnson)," Dick Vitale said. "Like only the very special players, he has the unique ability to make people around him better.''

The praise was endless. Any realist would have thought this kid was set up to underachieve.

Despite Carmelo Anthony leading Syracuse to a national title as a freshman in 2003, and Dwyane Wade guiding Marquette to a Final Four appearance, there was never any question as to who the No. 1 pick was going to be that year in the draft.

From a scouting perspective, James had every possible tool you could ask for. It's as if some mad hoops scientist put him together in a lab. At 6'8", 240 pounds, he possessed the size and strength of a 4, the mobility and athleticism of a 3, the scoring arsenal of a 2 and the vision of a point guard. 

James wasn't just NBA-ready out of high school—he was prepared to make an impact. He averaged 20.9 points, 5.9 assists and 5.5 boards his rookie year, when he helped increase the Cleveland Cavaliers' win total by 18 games from the season prior. The next season, he led the Cavs to a winning record. A year later, they were playoff-bound. 

There was just never any adjustment period or learning curve for James. 

MARK DUNCAN/Associated Press

It's not just the ridiculous numbers he puts up. It's the positive impact he's been able to make while producing them. 

I still find it hard to believe that as a fourth-year player, James led a lineup consisting of Sasha Pavlovic, Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to the NBA finals. 

But arguably the most impressive aspect of James' 11-year career is the growth he's shown from one year to the next, both fundamentally and mentally. 

His jumper was an issue to start. Now it's a strength, having hit at least 36 percent of three-pointers over his last three years. James has even raised his field-goal percentage with every season since 2007. He just keeps getting better and better in areas where there doesn't even appear to be room for improvement.

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

And we've seen him mature as a leader. He's become a role model for young players off the court and a better decision-maker on it down the stretch of games. 

In Miami, he got over that hump and took home two NBA championships—after he was ridiculed for leaving Cleveland without any. 

Lastly, we've seen him grow as a person. James followed up beautifully with his "Decision II" after making a joke of himself with the original televised announcement to ditch the Cavaliers for the Heat. 

He's made some mistakes and showed some weaknesses over the past 11 years. Every few seasons, he might give you a reason to jump off the wagon. But it doesn't take long before he pulls you back on. 

And now, between the titles, the never-ending endorsements and the businesses he's involved in, James has evolved into a worldwide superstar who now rules the NBA. 

And he's only 29 years old. This next era in Cleveland should be fun to watch unfold. 

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