2002 The Phenom
Of all the things I remember about The Chosen One SI cover story I wrote in 2002, what stands out most is 17-year-old LeBron James piling into my small rental car in Akron with his buddies Maverick Carter and Brandon Weems for the drive to Cleveland to see the Cavaliers take on Michael Jordan and the Wizards. LeBron brought a binder full of CDs, held court with his pals at an Applebee's, taught me the slang word janky and acted like just about any other teenager—with the small exception that he got to hang out with Jordan after His Airness had hit a last-second game-winner.
2003 The Rook
Remember that LeBron didn't land in the well-cushioned lap of the Lakers or the Celtics, franchises with a history of handling messiahs. Nobody had beaten down the doors to get to Mark Price and Brad Daugherty. So what I remember about LeBron's first year was Cleveland's rocky adjustment to LeBron, not LeBron's adjustment to the NBA. The Cavs struggled to maintain that delicate balance of promoting him and preserving him, and it got the King off to a bad start with the media. As for the on-court adjustment of LeBron, the whole sports world judging him from the cheap seats? He was pretty damn good from the tip.
2006 The Second Act
My first time meeting LeBron. A number of things struck me: his basketball IQ, how polished (yet unrevealing) he was talking to the media, how his teammates deferred to him even though he was young. But despite all his attempts to act like a CEO, he was still just a kid at heart. This became clear when our photographer, Michael LeBrecht, straddled James to get a portrait shot. At which point LeBron ripped off a long, stuttering fart, then began cackling like crazy.
2009 The Man, Not Yet in Full