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The Continuing "Education" of LeBron James...
Grant Wahl
January 13, 2003
...in which the 18-year-old high school phenom and soon-to-be multimillionaire goes to L.A. and studies the pampered life
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January 13, 2003

The Continuing "education" Of Lebron James...

...in which the 18-year-old high school phenom and soon-to-be multimillionaire goes to L.A. and studies the pampered life

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The Road to Graduation

This season LeBron James and his St. Vincent-St. Mary's teammates have already visited six cities and have played in as many large arenas as have any of the perhaps three dozen well-traveled scholastic teams nationwide. Here are James's final four out-of-town stops on his grand tour and the best opposing players he will face.

DATE

CITY, ARENA (CAPACITY)

PONENT (RECORD*)

Jan. 12

Cleveland, Goodman Arena (13,610

Detroit Redford (4-0)

Dion Harris, a streak-shooting 6'4" gurd, has orally committed to Michigan

Jan. 20

Greensboro ( N.C.) Coliseum (23,500)

Winston-Salem R.J. Reynolds (6-4)

Reyshawn Terry, a 6'7" forward and North Carolina recruit, could challenge James with his athleticism.

Feb. 8

Trenton, N.J., Sovereign Bank Arena (8,100)

Los Angeles Westchester (14-1)

Trevor Ariza, a 6'8" forward and UCLA signee, should test James on the perimeter and down low.

Feb. 16

Dayton Arena (13,455)

Kettering ( Ohio) Alter (5-2)

Doug Penno, a burly 6'4"guard, may try to muscle James.

*Through Sunday

Should hoops historians wish to pinpoint the moment LeBron James became an A-list Hollywood celebrity, let us ease their burden: It was at 2:27 p.m. last Thursday, when he was met at Los Angeles International Airport by a 30-foot-long white Cadillac Escalade complete with satellite TV, two wet bars, frosted windows, an eight-speaker stereo and room for 16 passengers. Wearing an And1 flannel jacket, vintage lo-top Nikes and an Adidas backpack—a tease for the shoe companies vying to drop $25 million in his lap—the most hyped high schooler ever piled into the land yacht with his personal security guard, his mother and his wide-eyed teammates from Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary High. Within seconds the thump of Jay-Z was rattling the windows like an earthquake. Assistant coach Steve Culp smiled and shook his head. "Just another day at the circus," he said.

Ever since SI put the wunderkind forward—a.k.a. King James, LBJ and Bron Bron—on its Feb. 18, 2002, cover, LeBron-ling Bros, has gone national. On Dec. 12 James's ESPN2 debut (in Cleveland, in his school's 65-45 blowout of then top-ranked Oak Hill Academy of Mouth of Wilson, Va.) became that network's most-watched telecast in nearly two years. On Dec. 15, in Pittsburgh, Jerome Bettis, a man making $4.3 million a year, actually asked James for his autograph before James's game against New Castle (Pa.). And on Dec. 22, in Philadelphia, Allen Iverson paid his respects during St. V-M's game against Strawberry Mansion (Pa.). Yet the buzz reached new levels last week when the Antics Roadshow headed to California for St. V-M's clash against Santa Ana powerhouse and No. 4-ranked Mater Dei High, or as ESPN2 billed its national telecast, Don King-style, " LeBron James versus D.J. Strawberry" (yep, Darryl's son, a 6'5" Mater Dei forward bound for Maryland).

The week provided a window into the present—and perhaps the future—of elite high school basketball, a demimonde in which an 18-year-old from Ohio can bring more electricity to Pauley Pavilion than most UCLA games do, all the while serving as a human cash machine for his school and all manner of wheeler-dealers, sponsors and media conglomerates. SI was there for LeBron Goes to Hollywood, a one-man star vehicle that straddled the line between action flick and morality play.

60 HOURS BEFORE THE GAME

His headphones blasting Lil' Wayne's rap CD 500 Degreez, James saunters into Gate B14 at Cleveland's Hopkins International Airport. It has been a busy week Five days ago the 8-0 Fighting Irish, ranked No. 9 nationally, beat No. 6 Columbus Brookhaven 67-62 in overtime before 18,000 fans in Ohio State's Schottenstein Center (and thousands more watching on regional pay-per-view). Two days later James celebrated his 18th birthday with 30 friends at a private party at Cleveland's Dave & Buster's arcade, and the next night he made the rounds of New Year's Eve hotel fests with his pals in Akron. After a photo shoot and practice yesterday James just wants to board the plane, cram his 6'8", 240-pound frame into a coach-class seat and pull on his eyeshade for some sleep.

Good luck. An elderly man approaches Irish coach Dru Joyce II. "Would it be O.K. to ask LeBron for an autograph?" he asks.

"I don't know, he's a moody kid," replies Joyce, who has tried valiantly to maintain a shred of sanity around his team. "Bron. Bron! I know you can hear me. This man would like to have your autograph." James complies. He rarely signs for adults since he learned that autographed copies of his SI cover have appeared on eBay for $200.

50 HOURS BEFORE THE GAME

They're still kids, after all. Following dinner at P.F. Chang's in Santa Monica, the mammoth Escalade stops at the nearby pier, where James sticks his head through the sunroof, like a periscope from a nuclear sub, and videotapes the sunset over the Pacific. With Jay-Z booming, he hands the camera to a teammate, rips off his shirt and starts rapping to howls from his friends, who are literally rocking the Escalade back and forth like a souped-up low-rider.

30 HOURS BEFORE THE GAME
Dinos Trigonis can't contain himself. For nine years Trigonis has put on the Dream Classic, a daylong high school tournament that has bounced around SoCal venues with mixed results. (Crowds have often numbered fewer than 5,000.) But when he persuaded James's school to pick his tournament (and a $15,000 appearance fee, part of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in ticket, tournament and TV money that St. Vincent-St. Mary will collect this season, thanks to James) ahead of two dozen others, he hit the mother lode. "This is like the perfect storm for basketball," Trigonis says, tripping over his words with excitement. His partner, Mike Rangel, estimates that Trigonis will clear $100,000 from the LeBron-fueled Dream Classic—10 times his previous high.

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