On this day 17 years ago, the world was officially introduced to LeBron James. December 12th, 2002. That was LeBron's first national television appearance as a member of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. He'd already been anointed as The Next Big Thing after appearing on the cover of ESPN The Magazine, but this game is the moment where everyone realized that this kid might be the real deal.
Or so I imagine, anyway. I was six when this game was televised. I am now in my twenties and live in New York, working as a sports blogger. There haven't been many constants in sports over this nearly two-decade span; the dominance of the New England Patriots and the sheer incompetence of the New York Knicks are two that come to mind. LeBron, however, looms over all, a towering and powerful figure who arrived in the early 2000s and seems set to enter the second decade of the 2000s in the same spot. He's created empires and torn them down.
For pretty much all basketball fans my age and younger, LeBron James is synonymous with the idea of basketball. There is no concept of the modern-day superteam without him. No discussion can be had about the evolution of the point forward without his name. With the exception of last season, any team that wanted to win a championship from 2007 to now has had to go through LeBron in some way, shape, or form. He's in rarified air that few players have reached: There are stars, there are superstars, there are larger-than-life stars, and then there's LeBron James.
And it's been that way for nearly two decades. Two decades! The population of the United States has grown by nearly 40 million people in the span LeBron has been playing basketball at the professional level. He's lasted through four presidential terms. LeBron himself started a family and is on pace to play at the same time as his oldest son. In the 2021 NBA Draft, there will be prospects going in the top five who were born into a world where LeBron was already dropping 25/5/5.
The only athlete in the world who can compare is Tom Brady. He's been doing it for a bit longer and with equal levels of sustained success. But he's slowing down, especially this year-- and it doesn't look like LeBron is anywhere near the back end of his career. Argue about the whys and hows all you want, he's in year 17 averaging 25 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds per game. He's still entirely capable of winning a game through force of will alone. The method he uses to do it has changed since he was a high-flying 18-year-old, but the end result remains the same as it always has.
Maybe you, dear reader, don't think this is as incredible as I do. Or maybe you're just sick and tired of this LeBron James character who has reigned over any and all basketball discussions since sports talk television started playing a prominent role in the day-to-day lives of fans. That's understandable. When it comes to someone like LeBron, there's as much vitriol as there is adoration to go around. It's part of the deal.
But LeBron was 17 in the video above, calm and composed as he entered the purview of the general public. He's now 34, still firmly entrenched in that purview as the leader of one of sports' most recognizable franchises. Somehow, he still isn't done yet. Somehow, it looks like we may have another half-decade of his presence in basketball. The end will come, as it always does, and it may be sudden. But for many, a league without LeBron is impossible to imagine. To me, that's as remarkable as any championship or individual accolade.