Text by Stephanie Peters
Read by Jacobi Hollingshed
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LeBron James was a sensation in his early days playing ball in Akron, Ohio, and he continued to amaze as a high school phenomenon. Now an international icon and the heart of his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, he is widely known as one of the greatest basketball players ever to step onto the court.
Discover LeBron James’s incredible story in this in-depth biography of one of basketball’s brightest stars. The book takes readers on the court through suspenseful accounts of pivotal games, paints a picture of LeBron’s on- and off-court triumphs and challenges, and includes bonus stats, career highlights, and photographs.
Copyright © 2008 by Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Little, Brown and Company
Hachette Book Group, USA
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017
Visit our Web site at www.HachetteBookGroupUSA.com.
First eBook Edition: September 2008
To look at him now, you might not think that LeBron James was once like lots of kids in the United States. But he was. He went to school, played sports, and hung out with his friends. He did chores. He watched television and played video games. He worshipped sports heroes such as Michael Jordan.
LeBron was like many kids in the U.S. in other ways, too. His mother was a single working woman struggling to make ends meet. He never knew his father. Throughout much of his childhood, he lived in neighborhoods where crime, violence, and drug use were the norm.
Yet he was different, too. For one thing, he was tall, taller than most other boys his age. But it was when he picked up a basketball and strode onto the court that his true difference emerged—for that young boy could do things with a basketball that few others could.
LeBron James was born on December 30, 1984. His mother, Gloria James, was a sixteen-year-old high school student and unmarried. No one has ever known for certain who his father was.
LeBron and Gloria lived with her mother, Freda, and Gloria's two brothers, Terry and Curt, in a small house on Hickory Street in Akron, Ohio. Hickory Street was in one of Akron's poorer neighborhoods. Sometimes, homes in such areas can fall into disrepair. The neighborhoods themselves can become crime-ridden and dangerous.
Not so with Hickory Street. The residents there kept their homes neat. If a person or family was in need, neighbors stepped forward with food, shelter, clothes, or other help. The people there may not have had much, but what they had they were glad to share, because they knew that someday, they might be the ones who needed help.
Freda, Gloria, Terry, and even Curt, who was only nine when Gloria's baby was born, worked hard to give LeBron all the love and care he needed. It wasn't easy, for money was tight and newborns can be challenging. But they made it work all the same.
They soon had another set of hands to help out. When LeBron was eight months old, Gloria began dating a man named Eddie Jackson. Eddie was twenty years old and struggling to find his direction in life. Freda helped him by giving him a place in her home with her children and grandson.
Not all twenty-year-old men are comfortable around babies, but Eddie took to LeBron right away. In fact, he is the only man LeBron has ever called Dad.
LeBron quickly grew from an infant to an active toddler. Jumping, running, tackling—he was in constant motion. "You could be laying on the floor," Eddie once recalled, "and the next thing you know... he'd jump right on you."
So much energy needed an outlet. So, for Christmas just before LeBron's third birthday, Eddie and Gloria purchased a child-sized basketball hoop and ball. They set it up near the tree on Christmas Eve.
But that night, tragedy struck. Around three o'clock, Freda James collapsed in her kitchen. Eddie heard her fall and came running. He shouted for Gloria to call for help. But it was too late. Freda died in his arms within minutes.
Gloria, Eddie, Terry, and Curt were grief-stricken. Yet with great effort, they hid their sorrow from little LeBron that Christmas morning.
"We wanted to make things as normal for him as possible," Eddie later said. "He had no idea that his grandmother had died."
Indeed, photographs they took that day show LeBron laughing and enjoying the wonder of the holiday. They also show him playing with his brand-new basketball set. At first, he didn't really know how to use it properly. Instead of tossing the ball into the hoop, he rammed it through the rim with fierce slam dunks.
Gloria and Eddie raised the hoop to its highest level, thinking it would encourage LeBron to try shooting. Instead, as the family watched half amused, half amazed, LeBron simply took a running leap and stuffed the ball.
"I was thinking, 'Man, this kid has some elevation for just being three years old,'" Eddie remembered.
LeBron's happiness that Christmas morning was a welcome distraction from the grief the others were feeling over Freda's death. But when the holidays were over, the reality of their loss and their situation set in.
Freda had been the glue that held the family together. Without her, things slowly fell apart.
Eddie, Terry, and Gloria, scarcely more than children themselves, struggled to take care of twelve-year-old Curt and three-year-old LeBron. Their Hickory Street neighbors helped with meals and child care, but there was only so much they could do. And there was nothing anyone could do to help the James children overcome their grief.
As for the house, none of them had the time, money, or know-how to properly care for it. Before long, the dwelling fell into disrepair. Then the city had it condemned—and eventually torn down.
Without a roof over their heads, Gloria, LeBron, and the others were forced to search for other places to live—or else take to the streets, homeless.
LeBron and Gloria
In the wake of Freda's death and the loss of the Hickory Street house, the James family had no choice but to split up. Terry and Curt left together to find a new place to live. Eddie, who was no longer dating Gloria, moved in with his aunt.
Gloria and LeBron, meanwhile, moved to Elizabeth Park. Elizabeth Park was located in a rough, crime-ridden area where the wail of police sirens often woke residents in the middle of the night.
"I saw drugs, guns, killings," LeBron later recalled. "It was crazy."
But Elizabeth Park was also where many of Gloria's friends lived, people who opened their homes to her and her son. Gloria couldn't afford a place of her own, so when someone offered them a room to sleep in, she accepted gratefully.
They didn't stay with one set of friends for more than a few months, however. "My mom would always say, 'Don't get comfortable, because we may not be here long,'" LeBron remembered, adding that when he was five years old, they moved seven times.
Adjusting to such an unsettled existence wasn't easy for either of them. But somehow, Gloria managed to make it work. "My mom kept food in my mouth and clothes on my back," LeBron said years later.
Not surprisingly, LeBron found the violence in and around Elizabeth Park terrifying. Equally frightening was the fact that youngsters not much older than him were sometimes involved in the crimes.
But he himself never got in trouble. "That just wasn't me," he has said. "I knew it was wrong."
LeBron didn't have many close friends back then because he and Gloria moved around so much. Attending school regularly was difficult for him, too. In fact, when he was in the fourth grade, he missed more than eighty days of school!
Fortunately, around this same time, LeBron found a new lifeline in the form of organized sports. In 1994, he joined a football team, the South Rangers, in Akron's Pee Wee League. Attending practices, learning the rules, playing the game, making friends—nine-year-old LeBron loved everything about football and being part of a team.
"The South Rangers meant a lot to me," he said. "All the coaches and the parents really cared about us. I actually wanted to play in the NFL."
Such a dream wasn't that far-fetched, for LeBron was a terrific player, one whose prowess on the field got him attention.
Frankie Walker Sr. was one of the people who noticed LeBron. Walker had once played for the South Rangers himself and still enjoyed following his old team's schedule. He befriended LeBron and Gloria. When he learned about LeBron's long absences from school, he realized the pair's erratic home life was causing trouble for the youngster.
Walker didn't want LeBron to be one of those kids who fell through the cracks, so he approached Gloria with an unusual proposal. He, his wife, Pam, and their three children wanted LeBron to come live with them.
It was to be a temporary situation, he assured Gloria, just until she was settled somewhere. If she agreed, LeBron would be treated as a member of their family. He would have regular meals, a structured schedule that included attending school regularly and doing household chores, plus the comfort of a nice home and the support of people who cared about him.
Gloria saw that the Walkers were good people and that LeBron liked and trusted them as much as she did. So, with the knowledge that she and LeBron would be together most weekends, she agreed to let LeBron go live with the Walkers.
The arrangement proved life-changing for LeBron. Under the Walkers' care, he settled into a routine that provided him with more stability than he had ever known.
"They are like my family," LeBron says today, "and I wouldn't be here without them."
It was while living with the Walkers that he returned to a sport he'd first tried when he was just two years old: basketball.
Honing His Talent
Frankie Walker Sr. coached a youth basketball team, the Summit Lake Hornets, at the local community recreation center. His son, Frankie Jr., was a member of the squad. When LeBron joined the Walker household, he joined the team, too.
Frankie Jr. was a good player, in part because he was naturally talented and in part because his father had been coaching him for a long time. At first, he beat LeBron every time they played a game of one-on-one.
- On Sale
- May 16, 2017
- Hachette Audio