LeBron James: The True Superhero Of Cleveland

Every sport has its elite trophies; competitions that entitle the winners to say “we’re the best on earth”, but it’s easier for some teams to win them than others. Nobody knows this better than the citizens of Cleveland, who were starved of sporting success thanks to an unprecedented run of bad luck that spanned generations. When a local boy with a generational talent arrived on the scene, a tumultuous and dramatic love affair began, one filled with breakups, reunions, heartbreak and triumph; a narrative that at times seemed closer to a tragic romance than a sporting biopic. That local boy was LeBron James, the internationally famous True Superhero whose greatest challenges - and successes - would all be found very close to home.

LeBron James: The True Superhero Of Cleveland
LeBron in his Fighting Irish days

The world’s most famous schoolboy

LeBron was born in 1984 in the city of Akron, Ohio, just a few miles south of Cleveland. His mother, Gloria, was only sixteen years old when she gave birth to him and his father was not involved in his life. Gloria struggled to provide for her family, and LeBron’s childhood was very unsettled; in one calendar year they moved house seven times. As an eight-year-old, LeBron missed 100 out of 162 days of school, and he would later tell the Guardian how during this time he… 'saw drugs, guns, killings; it was crazy'. Eventually, Gloria decided that LeBron would be better served by a foster family and he was taken into the care of a local football coach, Frank Walker, who provided much needed stability and introduced the young LeBron to basketball.

LeBron James: The True Superhero Of Cleveland

BY
SPYSCAPE
5
MINUTE READ
Share with Twitter
@SPYSCAPE
Share
Share to Facebook
Share to Twitter
Share with email

Every sport has its elite trophies; competitions that entitle the winners to say “we’re the best on earth”, but it’s easier for some teams to win them than others. Nobody knows this better than the citizens of Cleveland, who were starved of sporting success thanks to an unprecedented run of bad luck that spanned generations. When a local boy with a generational talent arrived on the scene, a tumultuous and dramatic love affair began, one filled with breakups, reunions, heartbreak and triumph; a narrative that at times seemed closer to a tragic romance than a sporting biopic. That local boy was LeBron James, the internationally famous True Superhero whose greatest challenges - and successes - would all be found very close to home.

LeBron James: The True Superhero Of Cleveland
LeBron in his Fighting Irish days

The world’s most famous schoolboy

LeBron was born in 1984 in the city of Akron, Ohio, just a few miles south of Cleveland. His mother, Gloria, was only sixteen years old when she gave birth to him and his father was not involved in his life. Gloria struggled to provide for her family, and LeBron’s childhood was very unsettled; in one calendar year they moved house seven times. As an eight-year-old, LeBron missed 100 out of 162 days of school, and he would later tell the Guardian how during this time he… 'saw drugs, guns, killings; it was crazy'. Eventually, Gloria decided that LeBron would be better served by a foster family and he was taken into the care of a local football coach, Frank Walker, who provided much needed stability and introduced the young LeBron to basketball.

Article Ad
Article Ad
Article Ad

LeBron only started high school basketball in fifth grade, a couple of years later than most of his contemporaries, but he soon caught up and then overtook his classmates, gaining a reputation in his local area as a phenomenal talent. By the time he left high school, that reputation had spread globally. James was a teenage sensation with people clamoring to see him play in packed auditoriums, with some paying upwards of $2000 a ticket to see games in his final year of high school. ESPN often broadcast these games live, and newspapers around the globe reported on his incredible talent. Everybody who followed basketball knew who LeBron was before he’d ever set foot on an NBA court, but when he did eventually make his NBA debut he didn’t have to travel far.

The Sweep

LeBron joined the 2003 NBA draft straight out of high school, and he was drafted by his local team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. It is hard to imagine a more fateful outcome; Cleveland had struggled for decades under the weight of what many called The Cleveland Sports Curse, which had seen the city go without a major championship win in basketball, baseball or American football since 1964. Cleveland teams didn’t just lose, they lost spectacularly, posting record-breaking winless droughts and going decades without troubling the postseason schedules. Many Cleveland fans preferred these droughts to the brief periods where the city’s teams threatened to win something, as these would always end in harrowing near-misses; whenever Cleveland sides sensed postseason glory they would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with calamitous plays that would live on in infamy, plays with Wikipedia entries with titles such as The Fumble, The Drive, The Shot and The Catch

LeBron James: The True Superhero Of Cleveland
Hard times versus the San Antonio Spurs in the 2007 Finals

Of the city’s three teams, the Cavaliers had provided the most false hope in recent times, consistently reaching the playoffs throughout the late 80s and 90s, only to regularly fall at the first postseason hurdle. By the time LeBron showed up in 2003 normal service had resumed; they had not reached the playoffs in the last five attempts and were coming off the back of their worst season for 22 years. LeBron’s impact was instantaneous; he won Rookie of the Year as he helped Cleveland double their number of regular season wins in the 2003-4 season, and the following year he led the Cavs to a 42-40 winning season, narrowly missing out on the playoffs. In 2006 LeBron finally made his postseason debut, and the following year he led Cleveland to their first ever NBA Finals, against the San Antonio Spurs. Perhaps predictably, Cleveland didn’t just lose, they lost spectacularly in a 0-4 sweep. LeBron began to feel he was carrying the weight of his team - and perhaps also The Curse - on his shoulders, and although he persisted for three more seasons, twice winning the MVP award in the process, he was unable to bring the Cavaliers back to the finals. It seemed that The Curse had bested LeBron, and he made a choice that would become more infamous in Cleveland than any Drive, Catch or Fumble. 

 

The Decision

At midnight on July 1st, 2010, LeBron’s contract with the Cavs expired and he became a free agent. Speculation about his future had been rife for months, but nobody expected what came next. LeBron broadcast an hour-long special on ESPN called The Decision, in which he made an infamous announcement:  “I'm going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat. I feel like it's going to give me the best opportunity to win and to win for multiple years, and not only just to win in the regular season or just to win five games in a row or three games in a row, I want to be able to win championships. And I feel like I can compete down there”.

The broadcast caused enormous controversy. Cleveland’s owner, Dan Gilbert, claimed he had not been informed prior to the broadcast and posted an angry open letter attacking LeBron on the team’s website, which led to Gilbert being fined by the NBA. Former players were also highly critical, with both Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson questioning LeBron’s willingness to team up with his rival stars, instead of trying to beat them. LeBron’s reputation with neutrals nosedived, and in Cleveland he became public enemy number one, with fans burning his jerseys and constantly booing him whenever he returned to the city with the Heat.

LeBron James: The True Superhero Of Cleveland
LeBron scoring 43 points to lead the Heat to victory in Cleveland in 2014

LeBron has subsequently said he regrets The Decision, but most neutrals would now admit that his decision to leave Cleveland was vindicated. The Heat were genuine championship contenders, and although - to the delight of Cleveland fans - LeBron’s first season in Miami ended with defeat in the Finals to the Dallas Mavericks, James and the Heat would go on to win championship rings in the next two years with LeBron picking up MVP awards both times. James was finally able to prove himself at the highest level, and after Miami narrowly missed out on the threepeat in 2014, LeBron made another shocking decision, albeit one that he chose to announce in a less ostentatious manner. He had unfinished business in Cleveland to attend to, and opted out of his contract with the Heat to return to the Cavaliers.

The Block

The Cavs had struggled in LeBron’s absence, but this did lead to them getting another opening draft pick, which they again used wisely by picking up the phenomenal talent of Kyrie Irving. In 2014 they also secured the services of Kevin Love, and the following season this newly formed triumvirate of star players immediately propelled the Cavs from the doldrums to the NBA Finals. Standing in their way was arguably the greatest NBA side of the 21st century, Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors. 

This proved a bridge too far for LeBron in 2015, but in 2016 the two sides met again. The Warriors weren’t just reigning champions but had also broken the record for the most wins in a regular season. They started as heavy favorites, and when they raced into a 3-1 series lead it seemed as if The Curse had struck Cleveland yet again. No side had ever come back from 3-1 down in an NBA Finals series, but the Cavs clawed their way back into contention, before James and Irving turned the record books on their heads in one of the most nerve-wracking Game 7s in the sport’s history. With 4.39 remaining on the clock, the Warriors’ Klay Thompson tied the game at 89-89, and nobody would score for the next four minutes of missed shots and defensive rebounds. With 1.50 on the clock it seemed certain that Andre Iguodala would break the deadlock as he rose for a simple layup, but LeBron interposed himself with a superhuman leap that created another Wikipedia entry in the annals of Cleveland sports: The Block. A minute later Kyrie Irving poured in a three-pointer, and with 10 seconds left on the clock LeBron made a nervy free throw to put the game beyond the Warriors’ reach, and break the 52 year curse on the city of Cleveland. 

The True Superhero of Akron and Cleveland

This would be the high point for the Cavaliers, who would lose to the Warriors in the following two NBA Finals, but crucially the long-awaited championship repaired the rift between LeBron and his home state. In 2018 he left Cleveland once again, but this time the announcement was carefully handled and did not cause much controversy. James has since won a fourth championship with the Lakers, and there is now talk of him returning to Cleveland for a third time, although he has declared that his last wish in the NBA will be to play with his son, Bronny, who is currently a star in high school basketball.  

LeBron James: The True Superhero Of Cleveland
LeBron on the court with Bronny

Meanwhile in his home town of Akron, just a few miles south of Cleveland, LeBron is giving back to the community that raised him. He has always been charitable, but has also had a reputation as a player who would go the extra mile to help those less fortunate than himself, especially as one of the NBA’s most active ambassadors for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. As his career has progressed he has become more focused on education, and after studying the worryingly high rates of high school dropouts in Akron, he resolved to do more to help them get the same opportunities he’d benefitted from as a child. Since 2011 he has been funding scholarships and providing mentors for Akron schoolkids through his I PROMISE program, and in 2018 he opened the doors of the I PROMISE school, which currently has almost 350 students on its books, with over a thousand more children in Akron being mentored through the program. Now LeBron is going further, and is constructing housing estates in Akron to provide a safe and affordable community for the families of I PROMISE students, something that was sorely lacking in LeBron’s own childhood. It remains to be seen whether James will see out his NBA career in the city where he began, but there is no doubt that wherever he plays, he will continue to be a True Superhero for the people of the city where he grew up. 

Read mORE

RELATED aRTICLES

Gadgets & Gifts

Put your spy skills to work with these fabulous choices from secret notepads & invisible inks to Hacker hoodies & high-tech handbags. We also have an exceptional range of rare spy books, including many signed first editions.

Shop Now

Your Spy SKILLS

We all have valuable spy skills - your mission is to discover yours. See if you have what it takes to be a secret agent, with our authentic spy skills evaluation* developed by a former Head of Training at British Intelligence. It's FREE so share & compare with friends now!

dISCOVER Your Spy SKILLS

* Find more information about the scientific methods behind the evaluation here.