Commentary

Decade later, LBJ-Melo still goin' strong

Originally Published: February 23, 2012
By Brian Windhorst | ESPN.com

LeBron James and Carmelo AnthonyIssac Baldizon/Getty ImagesThe friendly rivalry between LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony started 10 years ago in high school.

MIAMI -- In the summer of 2001, LeBron James returned home from a week in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he'd been the youngest player to take part in a USA Basketball development camp.

It was mid-June and school had just ended. James was 16 years old, pimple-faced and sporting a long, unkempt hairstyle. Though he was already turning heads as a major talent -- he would capture the attention of scouts and journalists for the first time later that summer at the ABCD Camp in New Jersey -- he still was a relative unknown.

He'd met a few really good players in Colorado. Guys like Deron Williams, Raymond Felton, J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams. But when he went back to Ohio, there was only one player he was really talking about: another young star who had made a name for himself in high school circles but was headed for stardom.

"I kept telling all my friends how good this Carmelo Anthony guy was," said James, who will see Anthony again Thursday night when the Heat host the Knicks. "I did not know then that we were going to put him on our schedule."

What followed was one of the most memorable and talked about high school games in recent memory. A game that was 10 years ago this month.

"Has it been 10 years?" James said. "Wow."

After that summer, Anthony, who is a year older than James, transferred from his high school in Baltimore to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. James' high school, St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, Ohio, ended up agreeing to play Oak Hill in the featured game of a high school showcase the next February.

It was a matchup that was pieced together and promoted to sell tickets. It worked. More than 11,000 showed up at the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, N.J., on a Sunday. What happened then still lives strongly in the memories of people who were there and on YouTube, where the highlights have gotten nearly 1.5 million views over the last decade.

"It felt like a Magic Johnson versus Larry Bird moment because LeBron was the best junior in the country and Carmelo was the best senior," said Tim Rogers, who covered the game for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

[+] EnlargeCarmelo Anthony LeBron James
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesIn 2003, Melo and LeBron entered the NBA together.

"What was so positive about it was they both showed a mutual respect for each other. There was no trash talking and no trying to show the other guy up. It was fun to just watch their talent."

The game played out just as many of their meetings in the NBA have. Anthony's Nuggets and Knicks teams have a lopsided head-to-head record in his favor against James' Cavs and Heat teams, even though James has won the individual scoring battles regularly.

On that night in 2002, both played well and James put up the slightly better stats, but Anthony's team got the victory. Oak Hill, which was 24-1 going into the game, won 72-66. James had 36 points on 12-of-27 shooting with eight rebounds, five assists and six steals. Anthony had 34 points on 14-of-25 shooting with 11 rebounds and two assists.

"It was a great show," James said Wednesday. "I wanted to play Oak Hill again right then and there."

"We always have brought out the best in each other," Anthony said in 2010. "It started with that night because it was something we'd looked forward to for months and it turned into a great experience."

James had several fantastic and athletic drives to the basket during the game, showing off the strength and agility that he still relies on today. He also hit several clutch 3-pointers that kept his team close in the second half.

Anthony might've had the highlight of the game with a power dunk in transition that came over the top of one of James' smaller teammates. He also showed off his ability to work in the post, techniques he's used on James numerous times in the years since, to score on his rival several times.

"I went through a lot of battles in high school," James said. "We both had speed, power and the ability to handle and shoot. He was one of the [few] guys that I came close to."

Neither were truly on the national scene yet. Just a few days later, James made his debut on the cover of Sports Illustrated under the banner "The Chosen One." Ten months later, when he did get his rematch with Oak Hill, he got the victory in a game that was broadcast on ESPN2. Anthony was gone by then, on his way to winning a national title in his one season at Syracuse.

Fans who went to the game that day thinking they would get an early look at two superstars were not let down. It was one of the rare occurrences when the performances of both exceeded the hype. And in this case, at least on a local level, there had been a lot of hype.

"After the game, wherever they went it was like they were a beehive and people were buzzing around them," Rogers said. "People just wanted so much to get an autograph or a picture or just be close to them. They had left everyone in awe."