Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James appeared on MLB Network's documentary Junior about Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. and said the former Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds outfielder made baseball "cool":
"Growing up in inner city, there's like two sports that you play. There's either basketball or football. That's just, that's just the way it is. But when you have a, when I say like a phenom like a Ken Griffey Jr. that's playing baseball, it's like, 'Wow.' You know, he's like the staple for, you know, young African Americans. It's like, I want to get out there, too. You know, because what he's doing and how he's doing it, the way he look, the way he run, the way he swing, he makes the game of baseball cool."
Griffey, like James, was considered a phenom and franchise savior when he debuted for the Mariners in 1989. James said on the documentary that he understood the pressure Griffey must have felt at the time.
"There are so many challenges to being a young phenom and everybody is now saying, 'You're the savior,'" James said. "Because I know, personally, how difficult it is to be a teenager—to be a phenom—and then to be drafted No. 1 to a franchise and they're saying, 'Listen, you're our last hope.'"
But Griffey, like James, lived up to the hype. For his career, he hit .284 with 630 home runs (seventh all-time), 1,836 RBI and 1,662 runs. He was a 13-time All-Star, 10-time Gold Glover, seven-time Silver Slugger and the 1997 AL MVP.
Unlike James, he never was able to win a title. He was excellent in his three postseason appearances, however, hitting .290 with six homers and 11 RBI in 18 games.
And as James alluded to, Griffey brought a fresh, fun, exciting approach to the game, becoming famous for taking batting practice with his hat turned backward and flashing his big smile after making an amazing catch. He was aptly nicknamed "The Kid" and played with a level of exuberance that made him one of the most beloved ballplayers of his generation.