THROUGH THE YEARS WITH LEBRON, IN THE WORDS OF THOSE WHO HAVE COVERED HIM
2002 The Phenom
Of all the things I remember about The Chosen One SI cover story I wrote in 2002, what stands out most is 17-year-old LeBron James piling into my small rental car in Akron with his buddies Maverick Carter and Brandon Weems for the drive to Cleveland to see the Cavaliers take on Michael Jordan and the Wizards. LeBron brought a binder full of CDs, held court with his pals at an Applebee's, taught me the slang word janky and acted like just about any other teenager—with the small exception that he got to hang out with Jordan after His Airness had hit a last-second game-winner.
2003 The Rook
Remember that LeBron didn't land in the well-cushioned lap of the Lakers or the Celtics, franchises with a history of handling messiahs. Nobody had beaten down the doors to get to Mark Price and Brad Daugherty. So what I remember about LeBron's first year was Cleveland's rocky adjustment to LeBron, not LeBron's adjustment to the NBA. The Cavs struggled to maintain that delicate balance of promoting him and preserving him, and it got the King off to a bad start with the media. As for the on-court adjustment of LeBron, the whole sports world judging him from the cheap seats? He was pretty damn good from the tip.
2006 The Second Act
My first time meeting LeBron. A number of things struck me: his basketball IQ, how polished (yet unrevealing) he was talking to the media, how his teammates deferred to him even though he was young. But despite all his attempts to act like a CEO, he was still just a kid at heart. This became clear when our photographer, Michael LeBrecht, straddled James to get a portrait shot. At which point LeBron ripped off a long, stuttering fart, then began cackling like crazy.
2009 The Man, Not Yet in Full
A different LeBron. Supremely talented and supremely confident. Now he spoke like a man, acted like a man. More than anything, though, what struck me was his size. We set up an interview at the St. Regis hotel in San Francisco in January. Around that time there had been much conjecture about his weight. He looked like a linebacker, all muscle and thick shoulders. There were whispers of 270 pounds, perhaps higher, but James refused to provide a number. I was curious about two things: if he was indeed that big, and why he was reluctant to discuss it. So I brought an electronic scale to the interview, but James wouldn't get on. To me, this was LeBron in his second phase: hoping to create his own legend, looking to control as much as possible.
2012 The Champ
I had maybe 10 minutes with him. We did two or three setups, including with the trophy, which is every photographer's nightmare because it's a shiny gold ball. He took direction well, he was very affable and he gave it his all. LeBron gets his picture taken a lot, but lots of people do it often and they just suck—they're stiff or awkward. But not LeBron. He's comfortable in his own skin. That's the most important thing for any subject.
—Gregory Heisler photographer
TURN THE PAGE AND OPEN TO REVISIT SEVEN ATHLETES HONORED BY SI WHOSE GOOD WORKS CONTINUE TO SHINE THROUGH
MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY
NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES