- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

We know the story of LeBron James.

We have seen it a number of times in the past.

We have seen it with Felipe Lopez and Lloyd Daniels, with Dwayne Washington and Albert King. We have seen it with Tom McMillen, back in 1969, when he was a prep sensation from Mansfield, Pa. We have seen it with others, and it all follows a pattern. All could walk on water at one time. All were in the process of reinventing the wheel. All were destined to change the way we think of the game.

Yet in the end, the reality was a whole lot less compelling than the fantasy.

Each of the aforementioned eventually made the NBA, some lasting longer than others, but no one gave it much thought by then. They were the flavors of the moment in their coming-out years and then they were just another transaction in the NBA.

One notable exception to the oft-told tale: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, formerly Lew Alcindor, Power Memorial High School, class of 1965.

These are the footnotes in the hype, a phenomenon in itself, even more so with the 18-year-old James.

He has come along in the age of the 24/7 media crush, in the age of the Internet and satellite dish, in the age of the all-talk, all-the-time format, when everything is dissected a zillion times. James is the best thing since penicillin was discovered. He drives a Hummer H2. His mother is unemployed. How did the latter circumstance lead to the possession of the former? Yes, yes, yes. The question must be posed.

There is this Pavlovian dog-like notion that an element of racism is somehow involved in the attention being devoted to James. We are conditioned to go there. Is it cloudy today? That darn sun, it is a racist sun. The thought is amusing, not unlike when Al Sharpton rushes to a television camera to entertain the masses with his world view. He winds up tickling the funny bone, intentionally or not.

Charles Oakley suggested that if James were white, no one would be obsessed with the Hummer H2.

"Look, a lot of [white] people drive a Mercedes to high school and nobody stops them and asks them about their car," Oakley said last week. "But if a black guy is seen driving something like that, the first thing people say is he's a [drug] dealer. But that's just how society is. Blacks are living in the back of the bus and we might never get to the front of the bus. We are never going to be able to drive the bus like we should."

Forget about who gets to drive the bus. James is driving a Hummer H2. He would not be "King James" if he were driving a bus instead of a Hummer H2.

Like it or not, the 24/7 media industry has an insatiable appetite that chews up and spits out everything in its path, black or white or brown or yellow or red. It is not personal. It just is. You want to be rich and famous? Fine. Here's the deal: You get to be rich and famous in exchange for all your personal information, the bad as well as the good, and most of it inane. No matter. It fills space. It passes the time.

You're dating that person? My, my. Didn't know that. You have seven children by six different women? Should we address you as the Father of our Country or Mr. Fertility? It is your call.

See, that is how the process works. Is it fair? Fair has nothing to do with it. What is the concept of fair anyway? Is it fair that a high school kid from Akron, Ohio, is going to be worth millions in a few months because of a game, while the 20-year teacher down the street is pulling down $45,000 a year? No answer is necessary. That is just the way it is. So relax.

Who really knows how James has become the anointed one, the most ballyhooed high school athlete ever?

It must be in the stars. Calling Ms. Cleo, the Jamaican born in Los Angeles.

It seems kind of crazy, given what we know. So much goes into the making of an NBA player, some of it based on talent and some of it on gray matter. The color gray is appropriate. Sometimes the difference between an All-Star and a journeyman who never fulfills his promise is slight.

Why that guy? Why not this guy?

Those questions befuddle all NBA personnel gurus at one time or another.

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