The best of LeBron in Sports Illustrated, from Cleveland to Miami and back to Cleveland—and everywhere in between.
After delivering a championship to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a heroic 2016 NBA Finals performance, LeBron James opens up on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated in a story by Lee Jenkins. Even though Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are teaming up, James is motivated by something else: the ghost of Michael Jordan.
We rounded up the 10 best Sports Illustrated stories ever about LeBron James—from his days as a high school phenom to his ascendancy as one of the greatest basketball players of all-time.
Ahead Of His Class (Feb. 18, 2002)
James grabbed the attention of the basketball world as a teenager. At the age of 17, James was already preparing himself for NBA stardom. On a January night in Ohio, SI’s Grant Wahl shadowed James as he met with the greatest basketball player ever, Michael Jordan. The scene as Air Jordan meets his heir apparent is surreal—and the hype surrounding the St. Vincent–St. Mary high school prodigy would continue to grow. READ MORE
You Gotta Carry That Weight (Oct. 27, 2003)
LeBron James didn’t enter the NBA quietly. He debuted with 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals in 42 minutes. But LeBron’s incredible rookie season was just beginning. SI’s Jack McCallum chronicled King James’s early ascendancy to the throne. READ MORE
The Future Is Now (Feb. 21, 2005)
LeBron James was good right away, and it was almost too good to be true. As Charles P. Pierce wrote in the Feb. 21, 2005, issue of Sports Illustrated, this sent the NBA into a spin as everyone dubbed James as the chosen one—the true heir to His Airness. Heading into the All-Star game during the 2005 season, his second in the NBA, James was dominating, averaging 25.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.2 assists. It was safe to say that James was the future of the NBA, and the future had already arrived.
Meet The Rejuvenated, Revitalized LeBron (April 30, 2012)
LeBron James’s first season in Miami didn’t have the ending he imagined. After the Mavs won Game 6 in Miami to deny James his first NBA title, the Heat forward left the arena, drove to his house and didn’t leave for two weeks, as SI’s Lee Jenkins details in this story. But the LeBron who ultimately emerged during the 2011–12 season was a revitalized player who compiled one of the greatest NBA seasons ever. Teammate Shane Battier summed it up best: “He is a global icon, a basketball monolith, the most prevalent and recognizable athlete of our generation." READ MORE
LeBron James: 2012 Sportsman of the Year (Dec. 10, 2012)
After his controversial exit from Cleveland, James finally won his first title in Miami in 2012. His journey and achievement resulted in his first SI Sportsman of the Year award. As Lee Jenkins writes in his Sportsman feature on James, the Heat star reached several frontiers in 2012—an NBA title, a third MVP award, gold with Team USA—and following the regrettable Decision, he was on the verge of winning back the public. READ MORE
The James Gang (June 3, 2013)
After beating the pesky Indiana Pacers squad during the 2013 playoffs, SI’s Lee Jenkins evaluated James’s ability at every position on the floor, from point guard to center. Any NBA observer can attest to James’s versatility: His listed small forward position is the dream that opposing teams wish was a reality, because he truly plays all over the court. As Jenkins puts it, “Here's how he does it all, position by position.” READ MORE
Take Two (July 1, 2013)
Back-to-back NBA finals wins: check. LeBron James had carried the load even more to clinch his second title, this time in epic fashion over the San Antonio Spurs. The story was written and James had reached the pinnacle once again. In this story, Lee Jenkins chronicles how LeBron’s quest for a second title took every ounce of energy from King James. READ MORE
Back to the Future (July 21, 2014)
When the 2014 free agency frenzy began, the whole basketball world had its eyes on James. After LeBron announced his decision in an open letter in Sports Illustrated, SI’s Lee Jenkins reviewed how James decided he wanted to return home to Ohio. “Did he confide in Heat guard Dwyane Wade over dinner or not? Caroline's Cupcakes, apparently an emerging news source in Canton, Ohio, reports he is headed to the Cavs. NBA free agency grinds to a standstill, an entire league waiting on its King, as if anticipating a plume of white smoke from the Wynn,” Jenkins writes. READ MORE
LeBron’s Time (Dec. 7, 2015)
James was home, but his work had just begun. After falling in the 2015 NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, James was starting the grind of his second season back in Cleveland. The 2015 finals defeat stung James, but it motivated him entering the 2015-16 season. As SI’s Lee Jenkins chronicles, he took to working harder, and trying different leadership styles in hopes of leading the team back to the NBA finals. “‘This doesn't work. S---. Well, maybe that will work.’ Sometimes you think it does, and then the next day you realize that it doesn't," James says. READ MORE
The Promise Keeper (June 20, 2016)
In the most improbable fashion, LeBron James delivered on his promise and brought a title to Cleveland. He did it by leading his team back from a 3–1 deficit against the Warriors, who many had already dubbed the greatest team of all-time. “Two years ago, in Las Vegas, I had this vision,” James recalled to Lee Jenkins. “I never stopped having it.” Jenkins gets inside the mind of LeBron as he prepared for Game 7, perhaps the biggest game of his life. READ MORE
BONUS: I’m Coming Home (July 21, 2014)
The most famous Sports Illustrated story about LeBron James has a LeBron James byline. This first–person letter, originally published on SI.com on July 11, announced the news to the world: King James was returning to Cleveland. We’ll let LeBron take it from here: “BEFORE ANYONE ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It's where I walked. It's where I ran. It's where I cried. It's where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I'm their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now.” READ MORE
-Compiled by Andy Erk