Monday, December 23, 2002

AND HE SHALL BE A GOOD MAN: LeBron James is that damn good.

Last night's sold-out game at the Palestra between James' St. Vincent's-St. Mary's squad and Philadelphia's Strawberry Mansion High School (featuring Maureece "The Scorelord" Rice) wasn't much of a game -- SVSM led 65-25 after three periods and won 85-47 -- but as coronation and theater, it was outstanding.

James' stats for the evening don't tell you much: 26 points on 7-16 shooting (3-9 on threes, 9-11 FT), with eight rebounds, five assists and seven steals.

But seeing him in person tells you everything. At 6'8" 240lb, he's got an NBA body at the age of 17. More than that, though, he's got an NBA game. Not just the dominating presence, not just the confidence, but a court vision that enabled him to make lightning-quick passes to his teammates -- only some of whom were able to keep up with him.

Indeed, as good as his teammates are, LeBron James is wasting his time in high school. He is good enough to be in -- no, that's not strong enough, star in the NBA right now

Current NBA rules prohibit players from declaring for the draft until they turn 18 or their high school class graduates. It's silly. Sarah Hughes started skating in Nationals at the age of 13 and won her gold at the age of 16. Venus Williams turned pro at 14 and reached her first US Open women's tennis final at the age of 17 -- only to lose to 16-year-old Martina Hingis.

So what's wrong with a 17-year-old black kid from the Akron projects making his way through the NBA, when everyone else is profiting off his talent and success? I mean, look at this schedule. With games in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, North Carolina and Trenton this year, it's not like anyone else cares about his making it to class every day.

One final note: God bless Philadelphia crowds. We cheered the local underdogs early, booed them when they'd hack James on the way to the basket (which is understandable -- who wants to be the other guy in a LeBron James poster?), booed whenever someone on SVSM other than LeBron shot the ball, even booed LeBron's mom when she acted up like an Ann Iverson-in-training.

But in the fourth quarter, when the teams conspired to give us the playground style LeBron James-Maureece Rice one-on-one matchup we had wanted, a full house gave both players all the love we could. And when Maureece did a crossover dribble and broke LeBron's ankles, then popped in a jumper . . . oh, it was hoops heaven, and no one cared that Strawberry Mansion was still forty points behind.

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