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Volume 68, Issue 98 , Tuesday, February 18, 2003


Everyone does the LeBron James limbo

Cougar Pause

Tom Carpenter

Everybody grab a rum and coke, adjust your shades and join the conga line because today weire going to wind our way through the LeBron James party.

On the very slim chance that you havenit heard of the 17-year-old basketball phenomenon from Akron, Ohio, let me give you a brief history of this gifted athlete who, to many people, represents the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The 6-8, 240 pound senior basketball phenomenon from Akron, Ohiois St. Vincent-St. Mary High School has led his team to three state finals and two championships.

The state of Ohio rated him the best basketball player in the state the past two years and a dozen NBA scouts label him a "canit miss" first round draft pick in June, and quite possibly the top pick in the draft.

This year Jamesi team, the St. Vincent-St. Mary Fighting Irish, vaulted to the top of the national standings after defeating then No. 1 ranked Oak Hill Academy on a Pay-Per-View televised game.

His face has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and ESPN has done a feature story on him. Michael Jordan invited the 17-year old to participate in private workouts with a few of his pro basketball friends.

Sometimes James refers to himself as King James, and while he has never claimed to be the Messiah, many basketball aficionados believe he is the next Jordan.

The party around young James dances to the smooth rhythms of the limbo. The undulating adults who surround the 17-year-old, intoxicated by their visions of the incredible riches James should reap in the NBA draft, harmonize as they sing to each other, "How low can you go?"

If the people who surround James lower the bar any more, he could be our next president.

St.Vincent-St. Mary Headmaster David Rathz moved the teamis games from the small gym on campus to a college court. Playing the games at the University of Akron James A. Rhodes Arena, which seats approximately 5,900, and showing the team on Pay-Per-View television allowed Rathz to make a cool $250,000 for his schoolis coffers.

Rathz refused ESPNis offer to broadcast another game because he felt the station unfairly portrayed him as a greedy opportunist. Go figure.

The ESPN broadcast of the game that featured James was the second highest rated program of the year for the network. It makes you wonder why Rathz pulled up the welcome mat to the media.

Bathing in the light of this nebulous star is the place to be right now if youire a representative from a major sports shoe company like Nike or Adidas, or an NBA scout, or, of course, Rathz.

Sonny Vaccaro of Adidas and Nikeis George Raveling ship containers of shoes and uniforms to James in their quest to procure his signature on their dotted line. The bidding war may go as high as $25 million according to Raveling during an ESPN interview.

Thatis a lot of children in Third World countries putting in long hours at slave wages so the shoe companies can charge more than $120 a pair for their shoes to pay James his windfall profit.

Thatis no knock against James. When adults shove money at a 17-year-old kid, what teenager ponders the source of the money?

Itis time to lower the bar and sing another chorus of the James party song.

Cleveland Cavaliers former head coach John Lucas lowered the bar to new heights when he held private workouts for James in spite of NBA statutes prohibiting that very thing. Lucas admitted he had no regrets about paying the $150,000 fine and serving a two-game suspension for the infraction. His only comment, "We gotta have him, we gotta have him."

Some people, including many of the Cavaliers players, might misconstrue the Cavs subsequent trade of point guard Andre Miller to the Los Angeles Clippers as a not-too-subtle attempt to enhance the teamis chances in the lottery where James represents the Holy Grail of the NBAis future.

Lucas, who has known some low times himself for his repeated abuse of cocaine, can't quite limbo like the two ex-cons who danced into James' life at a most propitious moment for them, just before the NBA riches inundate LeBron in a sea of unimaginable wealth.

Letis limbo!

According to an ESPN story, Jamesi mother Gloria claims that Anthony McClelland, a convicted thief and arsonist, fathered James during a casual liaison with her. His attempts to introduce himself to his son have to this point failed.

LeBron James refuses to talk about his biological father or meet with him. Unfortunately for LeBron, that ghost will come back to haunt him once he signs on the NBA dotted line.

Eddie Jackson, another ex-con who served 27 months for drug trafficking, surfaced four years ago when James was an eighth grader and already on the college scoutsi lists. He became Jamesi business manager, and a quite successful manager, too. James drives a $49,000 Hummer with three televisions to school.

Jamesi mother, unable to provide for her son most of his life, allowed her son to move in with Frankie Walker and his family. Walker coached Jamesi PeeWee football team and became concerned about him when the fourth-grader failed to return to school after the holiday break.

While Gloria rubs her hands with unbridled glee at the riches that await her son, and screams obnoxiously at the referees and opponents during her sonis games, Walker is an important role model for her son.

Unfortunately James accepted two souvenir jerseys worth about $850 from a local clothing store and was suspended from league play a few weeks ago by the Ohio High School Athletic Association. He can play until his court hearing March 5.

What it all boils down to is that a remarkably talented 17-year-old high school senior finds himself about to be rich and famous. The piranhas smell the dollar signs and gather around him, each of them eager for their little bite of the riches.

So far James has been able to maintain his poise amidst the growing maelstrom fueled by greed, which swirls around him. The young man deserves to be commended for his behavior.

James earned a 3.2 GPA in high school and could play for any college program in the land, but he also has the opportunity to forego college and turn pro like Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and make millions immediately.

This saga could be a great American success story of poor boy makes good; or it could be a Greek tragedy of magnificent proportions before the story ends.

Maybe James will raise the bar, in spite of all those around him who love to limbo.

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