LeBron always has enjoyed the limelight

LeBron James announced July 8, 2010 that he

LeBron James announced July 8, 2010 that he will play for the Miami Heat during a live broadcast on ESPN. (Credit: Getty)

The spotlight always has followed LeBron James. From his high school days in Akron, Ohio, to the superstar stage of the NBA, James has been a household name and face for almost a decade.

Last night, the 6-8 forward, the prize of this year's free-agent class, took the next step in his already memorable career by announcing on live television that he will be joining the Miami Heat. James ended a whirlwind and much publicized week when he kept the entire sports world on the edge of its seat awaiting his decision.

James always has craved the constant presence of the spotlight. He was dubbed "King James" by his hometown faithful and "The Chosen One" by Sports Illustrated before he even graduated from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.

On a mission

He now can focus on winning his first NBA championship, something he needs to do to join the club to which other superstars already belong. Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers has five, including two straight. Dwyane Wade has a title after teaming with Shaquille O'Neal in 2006 in Miami. James did help the United States win a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics, but so did Bryant and Wade. Michael Jordan, who James is often compared to, won six titles - all for the Chicago Bulls.

Still, James is a superstar even among the NBA's superstars.

"I'm a big fan of his, obviously," Bryant told the Los Angeles Times last year. "I just think the world of him. Playing with him , and seeing his work ethic and what he's about, I just think he's terrific."

James, who chose to forgo college and declare for the 2003 NBA draft, was selected first overall by Cleveland, ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Wade, who went third, fourth and fifth overall, respectively. James also signed a $90-million shoe contract with Nike before ever playing in an NBA game.

During his seven years in Cleveland, James was named the 2003-04 Rookie of the Year, the league's Most Valuable Player in 2008-09 and 2009-10 and has been selected to the All-Star team every year since 2005.

He led the Cavaliers to the playoffs in five straight seasons, including their first Eastern Conference final since 1992 and their first-ever NBA Finals in 2006-07. They were swept in that Finals by San Antonio.

The lack of an NBA championship has not stunted James' popularity. His flair for the dramatic and game-changing skills have made him a constant rival of Bryant's for basketball supremacy.

Perhaps last night's decision will lead to James' first NBA championship. Perhaps not. The one certainty, though, is the media's glare will be fixated on his every move, now more than ever. But James has thrived under such attention since the moment he first stepped onto the court wearing the green and gold of St. Vincent-St. Mary.

James led the Fighting Irish to three state titles en route to being named Ohio's "Mr. Basketball" three times. He was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a junior and twice was selected to USA Today's All-USA First Team. He averaged 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game during a senior year that was disrupted by an investigation and ensuing suspension for violation of the Ohio High School Athletic Association's rules of amateurism.

In 2003, James and his mother, Gloria, were investigated by the athletic association after Gloria purchased a $50,000 Hummer for her son's 18th birthday. The car was bought with a bank loan that was approved based on his anticipated future earnings. James later was accused of accepting throwback jerseys of Wes Unseld and Gale Sayers (valued at $845) from a Cleveland clothing store and was stripped of his eligibility. He appealed the ruling, however, and a judge suspended him for only two games.

He finished his high school career with 2,657 points, 892 rebounds and 523 assists. And on June 26, 2003, Ohio's favorite son became a Cavalier. 

Filled with confidence

Even at the age of 18, James, who many considered to be Michael Jordan's heir apparent, believed he would transform the franchise and leave his mark on the game.

"They just had an off season this year," James had said of the Cavaliers, who in 2003 tied with Denver for the worst record (17-65) in the league. "They had a lot of things distracting them; maybe I was distracting them. . . . If I get drafted by the Cavs, they will be a lot better team than they were this year."

He has since used his mass appeal to secure endorsement deals with Sprite, McDonald's, State Farm and others, and in the process has made LeBron James a brand in itself.

He earned $28 million in endorsements in 2008, according to the most recent information available. Last year, Forbes magazine ranked him the sixth-highest earning athlete in the world.

The charisma that led to those endorsements has been on display throughout his career. James has averaged 27.8 points, seven rebounds and seven assists during his career.

Those statistics reflect LeBron's usual performances: dominating, flashy and multifaceted.

With the big decision out of the way, LeBron now continues his quest for the one main thing missing from his resume: a championship.

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