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Thursday, December 12, 2002
Updated: July 22, 6:00 PM ET
The Legend of LeBron

By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

Forget all the hand-wringing about there being too much hype, all the worrying about the media frenzy.

LeBron James
When LeBron James misses a shot, he does it intentionally to make the other players feel better.
I'm keeping my ear to the ground, I'm reading the papers, I'm watching SportsCenter, I'm tuned into the buzz, and the way I hear it, if anything, we might have undersold this LeBron James kid.

Most folks won't report this stuff -- it's cutting-room-floor material; hard to confirm or deny -- but the way I hear it ...

... he can throw the full-court bounce pass with both the right and the left hand, and he once headed the ball, like a striker for the German national team, while falling into the scorer's table, and hit his teammate, on one hop and in stride for a lay-up.

... his missed shots are intentional, designed to keep from completely demoralizing opposing teams and to give his rebounding teammates a sense of self-worth.

... he has an internal leveling and orientation mechanism (his eyes blink three times in quick succession) which lets him know when he is perfectly square to the basket.

... he has unusually sensitive finger pads that allow him to sense the age, region of origin and viscosity of the leather on the ball, and he has been known to describe shooting as a kind of empathy, an understanding of where the ball has been and where it hopes to go. The ball wants to score for him.

... he cuts to the hole the way Obi-Wan Kenobi waves off Storm Troopers: "These are not the droids you're looking for."

Lebron James
The kid can jump so high that he continues to jump in his sleep.
... his height and weight are variable. Like the yogi at the bottom of the pool on "That's Incredible," he's figured out a way to make his body stretch, contort, slow down, speed up, shrink and expand, at will. As a result, if he's given ample time before tip-off to find his body-mind center, he can literally take the court at whatever height and weight his team needs to best matchup with the night's opponent. Cavs coach John Lucas, long frustrated by the sense that he is a big man trapped in a small man's body, is said to be taking private shape-shifting lessons from LeBron on Sunday mornings at an undisclosed Akron-area Gymboree facility.

... if you turn the lights out in the gym (there were several reports of this at the power-outage game in Akron a couple of weeks ago), you can sometimes see, for a split second, a flash of brilliant green light emanating from his head.

... spectators -- including a young couple on the brink of divorce who, rumor has it, have decided to give it another go -- describe a profound feeling of calm while watching him play. Some claim to hear the sound of the ocean. Others sense warm and loving hands surrounding them.

... he "sleep jumps." Air Jordan, spread-eagle stuff. His mother routinely finds him snoring 47 inches off he ground and has to lay down pillows and a blanket for when he lands.

The way I hear it ...

... he's written a suitable-for-publication thesis on passing as a moral imperative.

By the way, I also hear he might be on par with Magic as a passer (yeah, right, like that's believable, but it's no big deal, I mean it's inevitable that there be some exaggeration when people get excited about a great new young player, right?).

And I hear ...

James Lebron
For every LeBron James, there's a basketball vagabond like Lenny Cooke.
... he makes a mean peach cobbler.

... he not only has a keen sense of where the other players on the court are (as has been widely reported by scouts), but he also a sense of history, and a Haley Joel Osment-sort of sense for players who are no longer around. While playing in and around Cleveland, he has been known to "feel" Foots Walker, and to tell his teammates, "Foots has got to get some touches tonight." And last week, he threw what looked like an alley-oop pass to no one, and explained later: "That was for Larry Nance. I threw it a little low. My bad."

... he has a fine singing voice. He sings "The Star-Spangled Banner" in the shower each morning (sounds a lot like Marvin Gaye at the All-Star Game in 1983, neighbors say), just waiting for his chance to bust it out on the big stage before a game some night.

... he's kind to animals.

... he's a good listener.

... in the third grade, playing a YBA game, he gave up his shoes (some folks swear they were Nikes, others remember adidas) to a kid on the other team who'd forgotten his. He played barefoot, icing his feet at halftime, scored 27, dished out 12 assists, and told the kid he could keep the kicks. (Look for them on eBay any day now.)

... two weeks ago, he made an official fall apart and cry when he handed him the ball after a dunk. "I felt like he could see right through me, like he knew my soul," the ref said. "I swear, I saw my mother in his eyes."

NEXT: Lebron James
A true renaissance man, James reads poetry, plays Rachmaninov and volunteers at a local community center on weekends.
... kids love him.

... he keeps a clean room and shares his toys (shoes, cars, whatever) with others.

... not so long ago, on a rainy night, in a Quickie-Mart parking lot outside of Akron, with a couple of buddies on a Slurpy run, on a bet, he shot 33 consecutive pints of milk (alternating between 2-percent chocolate and Vitamin D) into a garbage can 30 yards away. The pencil-neck behind the counter at the Mart (who some say put up the milk money) told anyone who'd listen the next day that it would have been 40, maybe 50, if not for a trucker shining his lights in Lebron's eyes as he turned his rig in for gas and a chili dog. (I have my doubts about this story, by the way. There's no way the guy behind the counter fronted the milk. He's making, what, like $57 a week take-home?)

I also hear that ...

... he reads poetry, plays Rachmaninov, studies the classic games of Bobby Fischer, thinks the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent overrated crap, and volunteers at a local community center on weekends.

LeBron James
Mike can only dream of being more like LeBron.
... he thinks of basketball as an endless rehearsal of ensemble and relation, as a metaphor for democracy, and as a chance to be his best self.

... Kobe, Tracy and Dajuan are starting up a LeBron-is-Coming support group.

... Michael has been seen cutting and pasting LeBron's head onto old pictures of himself.

... sculptors and painters are begging him to model for them.

More than anything, what I hear is that LeBron has a tremendous feel for the game, that he flows through it and it flows through him.

My friend and editor Kevin asked me the other day what I expected to see out of him tonight. Based on what I've been hearing? Just everything.

I expect to see him rub Dickie V's head for luck, smile at the ladies, kiss the babies, intuit the dead spots on the floor before he steps on them, rise over defenders like he's standing on a step-ladder, not just hold up under the pressure but thrive on it, make no less than four nuh-uh, he-did-not passes (in the first half), throw down at least three yowza dunks (per quarter), put up absurd, balanced numbers, steer the Goodyear blimp around the outside of the arena should the captain fall ill, know when to dish, when to take it to the rack, and when to help the guy selling popcorn and peanuts in the stands. I expect to be transported, to run for the phone after the game to tell others of what I have seen. I expect the future of my beloved game to be made known to me.

You think I'm asking too much?

Eric Neel reviews is a regular columnist for Page 2. You can e-mail him at eneel@cox.net. You can watch LeBron in action Thursday Dec. 12 on ESPN2 -- followed by NEXT -- at 9 p.m. ET.