LeBron James: From Rookie Phenom to Arguably the NBA's Best Player

Mike B.Correspondent IMarch 1, 2010

LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 3:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers leans over during the game against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center on December 3, 2003 in Los Angeles, California.  The Clippers won 90-80 .  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

I first remember hearing about him sometime in 2002.

Somebody—I don't remember who—was claiming he was a combination of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and John Stockton.

They said he possessed Jordan's tremendous athleticism, Magic's spectacular passing ability, and Stockton's mental toughness.

Everybody, I mean everybody, was saying he was going to skip college and be the top pick in the 2003 NBA Draft.

They were also saying he was going to become one of the greatest players the NBA world has ever seen.

Who was this high school kid everybody was talking about?

His name was LeBron James.

I watched a few of his high school highlights and I was impressed, but I wanted to see what this so-called "Next Jordan" could do in the NBA. Was he going to live up to all the hype that surrounded him or was he going to turn out to be just another bust?

LeBron signed a whopping $90 million shoe contract with Nike in May 2003, before he ever set foot onto an NBA court.

And as expected, he was selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the '03 draft, ahead of future stars like Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade.

The "King James" era was officially underway.

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Four months later, the regular season began. LeBron was finally set to make his NBA debut.  

Oct. 29, 2003. Cavaliers at the Sacramento Kings. ESPN. Fans everywhere were tuned in.

LeBron put on a show. The "fresh out of high school" 18-year-old dazzled the crowd with fast break dunks, fancy passes, and baseline jumpers. He played as if he were a  10 year pro.

He recorded 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds, and four steals. Not bad for a debut.

I was completely sold. Everybody was sold. He was instantly my new favorite player after just one game.

I then knew he was going to be that special player.

LeBron went on to have a fabulous rookie year (20.9 ppg, 5.9 apg, 5.5 rpg) and beat out Anthony for the 2004 Rookie of the Year.

He joined Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Jordan as the only rookies to average over 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists.

And although the Cavs won 18 more games than the previous year, they failed to reach the playoffs. But they were definitely on the right track to becoming an elite team with their new superstar in the mix.

The following season, LeBron made his first of six consecutive All-Star appearances and averaged 27.2 points, 7.2 assists, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game.

The Cavs finished with a winning record (42-40), but failed to reach the postseason once again.

During the 2005-06 season, LeBron scored at least 35 points in nine consecutive games joining Jordan and Kobe Bryant as the only players to accomplish that in 36 years.

He ended up averaging 31.4 points (a career high), seven rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game for the season and led the Cavs to 50 wins and their first trip to the playoffs in eight years. However, they were eliminated in the second round.

In 2006-07, LeBron averaged 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. He became just the second player in history—Robertson was the first—to average over 27 points, six rebounds, and six assists for three straight seasons.

LeBron led the Cavs to a second consecutive 50-win season and another postseason appearance. The team advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1992.

In the Conference Finals, the Cavs defeated the Detroit Pistons in six games after trailing 0-2. LeBron put together one of the best playoff performances ever as he scored 48 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists. He also scored the Cavs' final 25 points.

Unfortunately, the Cavs went on to be swept in the Finals by Tim Duncan's San Antonio Spurs.

In 2007-08, LeBron averaged 30 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. The Cavs won 45 games and fell to the eventual-champion Boston Celtics in the second round of the playoffs.

In 2008-09, LeBron was finally named the league's MVP after averaging 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. He also made his first All-NBA Defensive Team.

The Cavs finished with a league best 66-16 record, but came up short of that elusive NBA championship once again, as they fell to the underdog Orlando Magic in the Conference Finals. 

LeBron is currently the front runner for MVP this season. The seven year pro is leading the league in scoring 30 (ppg) and is also averaging 7.2 rebounds, 8.5 assists, and 1.6 steals per game.

The Cavs own the league's top record (46-14) and are considered one of the favorites to win it all.

But of course, to finally go all the way, they're going to have to get past talented teams like the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic, and Boston Celtics, which won't be a very easy task.

Hopefully this year, LeBron can finally win the ring that he's been chasing for his entire career. He's already won an MVP, made All-Star teams, won an Olympic gold medal, and been called the "greatest player on the planet."

All that's left is to win a championship.

And there's no excuses this year since he's surrounded with his most talented supporting cast ever: Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, Shaquille O'Neal. Thats's a huge improvement from the Ricky Davises, Darius Mileses, and Larry Hugheses of the past.

He's not only lived up to all the hype that he received entering the NBA, he's exceeded it.

But in order to someday be considered the greatest of all time, he has to win that ring.