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Monday, February 3, 2003
Updated: July 22, 5:19 PM ET
Please don't cry for LeBron James

By Tom Friend
ESPN the Magazine

LeBron James should sit tight and forget about this lawsuit thing. He's a pro now, was a pro last month and has not one amateur bone left in his body. He can take the state of Ohio to court, or take the Wes Unseld and Gale Sayers jerseys back, but don't tell me he's a victim. Don't tell me he hasn't had his hand out. It's been out.

He can take Ohio to court, but if he does, Ohio ought to ask him where he got the two cell phones he wears on his hip, or the two-way pager in his pocket, or the plane tickets to Chicago.

James LeBron
With so many toys, LeBron James has already enjoyed a fun ride in life.
Last summer, when James wrecked his wrist, he regularly flew to Chicago to be rehabbed by Michael Jordan's personal trainer, Tim Grover. Those fares aren't cheap, especially for a kid who lives in subsidized housing. But James has friends in the right places. Friends who help his mother figure out a way to get him a Hummer. Friends who want to sit in the green room with him in June. Those two throwback jerseys? They're small potatoes. If he goes to court, Ohio ought to inspect his closet. "My closet's crazy," he told me in November, before all the stuff hit the fan.

You name it, he's got it. Asked to describe his closet, he said, "I just got all kinds of crap in there. Timberlands, Jordans, adidas, Air Force Ones. I got a Julius Erving throwback jersey, a Pete Maravich, a Kenny Anderson from the Nets. I got Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I got football. A Joe Namath, a Jim Everett.

"But of all the throwbacks I've got, I love my Wes Unseld, Washington Bullets. Patriotic, baby. Red, white and blue. And it goes with everything."

In other words, LeBron already had the Unseld throwback jersey. Why he wanted another one is anyone's guess, but please don't tell me he got suspended by Ohio on circumstantial evidence. Don't tell me he was framed. There's more here than meets the eye, more loot than we even know about. Which is why LeBron James should just graduate, go to the prom, forget the state playoffs and start preparing for Tracy McGrady.

No one's saying he's a bad kid, because he's not. Furthest thing from it. I saw him in that St. Vincent-St. Mary's school house, and he's loved there. He's the class clown, but, at the same time, he's everyone's big brother. One day I saw a kid being teased at school -- for having a very good looking stepmother -- and LeBron told everyone to leave him alone, to drool all over somebody else's mom.

He's also just a teenager. Remember that. When the school had Old West day, LeBron wore the widest brimmed Cowboy hat anyone had ever seen. So, just because he acts entitled -- just because he doesn't have a strong parent telling him to just say no -- that doesn't mean he's crooked. It just means he is what he is.

Dru Joyce, his coach, can blame the media all he wants, but the shoe companies started this. They're the ones who started with the freebies, and the limos and the preferential treatment -- and the hype.

"When I was younger, I didn't have much," James said in November. "And now that I've got a little something, I'm just gonna take it."

He's gotten more than a little something. Dru Joyce, his coach, can blame the media all he wants, but the shoe companies started this. They're the ones who started with the freebies, and the limos and the preferential treatment -- and the hype. I have to sit there and listen to adidas' Sonny Vaccaro, on ESPN radio, defend LeBron's mother, a mother who has gone out and hawked her free adidas apparel. As if Sonny has no agenda. As if Sonny hasn't showered that family with favors. Sonny also predicted that Nike would probably sign LeBron, but he promised, happily, to drive up the price. I'm paraphrasing, but Sonny said something to the effect of, "I'll make them pay out the butt for him."

This is what it's come to. It's come to all of us, one by one, fawning over an 18-year-old, just because he's supposedly Jordan reincarnate. It's Nike and adidas over-bidding, and it's me, in the media, over-exposing and over-analyzing. Richard Williams, who has Venus and Serena on his résumé, once told me that he could take any 12-year-old phenom and make her a million dollars -- because America (short on attention span) is in love with child prodigies, is in love with the idea of something shiny and new. Richard's right.

And so that's LeBron. Shiny, new and already been paid. You know it, I know it. Don't need to see it on Court TV.

Tom Friend is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at