- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

Gloria James, who lives in Akron, Ohio, thought she was doing the right thing. Her son, LeBron, was turning 18, so she gave him a gift that most high-school seniors would envy a spanking new SUV. But the SUV isn't an ordinary SUV, and LeBron isn't your average high-school senior. A basketball player, he isn't even your average prep standout. Indeed, LeBron is so incredibly adroit that he is expected to be the NBA's No. 1 draft pick in June. Unfortunately, where LeBron will land is questionable, because of his mom's gift.
The gift is the talk of Akron, the NBA and prep sports. It also should be, I think, a textbook lesson in family values.
Ms. James is unemployed. But, somehow, she ginned up creditworthiness to gave her son a 2003 Hummer H2, a $50,000 SUV that easily accommodates the 6-foot-8 LeBron. Ms. James lives in public housing, but LeBron has reportedly lived with his coach since ninth grade. She reportedly took out a loan in her name for the Hummer, which sports California tags and was bought at a swanky L.A. dealership whose clientele include blond-bopper Britney Spears, gal-of-the-moment Jennifer Lopez and oodles of sports stars and celebrities. The Hummer is outfitted with three televisions and a video-game system.
There are lots of questions surrounding the gift, including in whose best interests did Ms. James act. The burning issue with the Ohio High School Athletic Association, which this week launched an inquiry into the gift, is this: Does the gift violate the association's rules regarding amateur status. All school districts have such rules, which lay out sometimes strict, sometimes ambiguous guidelines regarding student-athletes' compensation. The Ohio High School Athletic Association prohibits student-athletes from accepting practically anything of value, including college scholarships, equipment and memberships in athletic organizations, as a result of "capitalizing on athletic fame." The association does, though, allow student-athletes to accept fees for instructing or officiating youth sports at recreation centers, which only makes sense, since a lot student-athletes participate in summer-job and mentoring programs, which build character.
LeBron's mother is not talking publicly, so at least she's being smart in that regard, since this is a story that's not only making top-of-the-news rounds in Ohio, but on national sports programs. For his part, LeBron continues to prove he is a man-child setting new records at St. Vincent-St. Mary High by scoring 50 points and 11 three-pointers Tuesday night, after his pregame antics allowing the cameras to snap him playing on the court with a remote-control Hummer.
Now, this takes us right back to the true issue at hand. To wit: Is Gloria James preparing her son for the hard realities of the real world; or is she setting him up to become a crybaby who will wail victimization at every hard turn?
I haven't seen banks advertising $50,000 car loans to unemployed men and women who live in public housing? I have heard of creditors and sports agents who exploit moms and dads in anticipation of an athlete's worth once that athlete turns pro. And, considering the fact that LeBron's mother, and some folks close to him, wanted him to drop out in the 11th grade to go pro, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there is indeed a post-pro clause in the loan, which means LeBron himself would start paying the note after he begins earning a salary. Or maybe there is a ghost co-signer, a sports agent, perhaps.
News stories in Ohio suggested this week that the Ohio High School Athletic Association had placed the impetus on the school to prove LeBron remains eligible to play, which, of course, would have been unfair. If that had been the case, then the school, which has a considerable stake in LeBron's eligibility, would have been forced to subjectively judge itself. However, that is not the case. The Akron Beacon Journal on Thursday quoted the school's athletic director as saying the investigation is being "conducted exclusively" by the athletic association, and it quoted an association spokesman as saying "I don't expect anything to be wrapped up very quickly."
This is a humdinger that should give parents plenty of time to ponder.
Did LeBron's mom consider the educational consequences the loan would have for her son?
Did the social consequences of LeBron driving around public housing in such an expensive ride ever cross her mind?
Did she consider what would happen to LeBron's teammates and his school should the Ohio High School Athletic Association rule LeBron ineligible for amateur status before this season ends?
Did pride, a double-edged sword if ever there were one, get the best of her?
Is Gloria James gambling on the athletic association making a post-graduation ruling? (Wink, wink.)
Anyway you look at it, LeBron James is driving a pimp mobile.

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