LeBron James’s legendary career has put himself in the discussion as one of the greatest NBA players of all time. However, what may be LeBron’s most incredible feat, is that he has lived up to the unprecedented hype surrounding him every step of the way. James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was in high school and was practically anointed the next Michael Jordan when he was 16 years old. In 2003, after opting to jump straight to the NBA instead of college, the overall consensus from most experts was that LeBron was the best NBA draft prospect and a lock be selected number one overall. However, there were a few people who believed that Syracuse University forward Carmelo Anthony (who lead the Orange to the National Championship as a freshman) or Serbian big man Darko Milicic should go number one instead. Let’s review…
ESPN radio and TV personality Dan Le Batard, then a Miami Herald columnist, staunchly advocated for Anthony to be selected before James. From a May 25, 2003 column…
“At the risk of blasphemy, I don’t take LeBron James. If I have the No. 1 pick and can somehow trade it while still getting Carmelo Anthony, that’s what I do. I trade the rights to James to a team desperate enough to give me value for all the overinflated hype James brings with him, and the seats it will fill, and drop to No. 2 or 3. And then I make my team better more immediately with Anthony than I do with James…”
“Anthony is ready for the NBA right now. James isn’t, no matter how much buzz he gets. If it took Kobe Bryant a season and Tracy McGrady two before they even reached double digits in scoring average after high school, James won’t be doing it as a rookie, either.”
“James will be great. But so will Anthony, and sooner.”
Of course, LeBron ended up being NBA ready from the jump. He averaged 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists during his rookie year.
Le Batard doubled down right after the 2003 draft where Cleveland selected James first overall, the Pistons chose Milicic second, and Denver picked Anthony third. Le Batard said:
LeBron James is going to disappoint us. He isn’t going to live up to his unprecedented hype. He isn’t ‘can’t miss.’ He is the new generation’s first ‘can’t win’ kid. James isn’t going to be a Ryan Leaf bust, mind you. Problem is with the expectations, he isn’t allowed to be merely Peyton Manning, either. He’ll always be a very good player who is never good enough. There is one standard for him to reach — Michael Jordan — and anything less than that will be a failure. All James has to do is become, ho hum, just about the greatest thing we’ve ever seen. Jordan. Tiger. That’s where the bar has been set. James isn’t allowed to merely become Jamal Mashburn. Not at these prices. And James isn’t even the best player in his own draft, by the way. Carmelo Anthony will be better immediately and forevermore. Anthony gets to swoop in under the radar while every guy in the NBA, every single one, tries to break James’ young confidence. There are lazy NBA players who mail it in plenty of nights. None of them, not one, will be guarding James this season.”
All of this is rather ironic as Le Batard, a Miami native, resident, and Miami Heat supporter, ended up enjoying the fruits of LeBron’s time as a member of the Heat from 2010-2014, where he led Miami to two championships.
Le Batard wasn’t alone in the thinking. Greg Stoda, a columnist from another South Florida newspaper, the Palm Beach Post wrote on April 9, 2003…
“NBA Draft memo to the Miami Heat: Carmelo Anthony. If the pingpong balls bounce in Miami’s favor and it gets the first pick in the selection process, the Heat should take Anthony.
That’s how good he is. That’s how good he’s going to be.
It’s that simple.”
“Anyone who is willing to gamble on a high school kid with this much hype is a dreamer and needs to open up their eyes. Who has James played against this past year? Still trying to think of someone?”
Then there was David Dupree of USA Today, who claimed that the hype was essentially forcing teams to take Anthony over Darko and LeBron, and that many teams secretly wanted the third pick…
“That brings us back to Anthony, who is the subject of silent prayers of many NBA teams hoping they get the third pick and not one of the first two. They want Anthony, but they know they can’t take him if they get one of the first two picks. The system won’t allow it.”
LeBron not a sure thing?
.@jharris_trib in March 2001: "Akron's [Lebron] James a sure thing? Don't bank on it."https://t.co/PN9AfOJ6c8 #Cavs pic.twitter.com/Fs6MibcRXr
— Freezing Cold Takes (@OldTakesExposed) January 29, 2016
Here’s a scout who claimed Milicic had more skill than LeBron, and declared Darko a “can’t-miss player.”
Here's an NBA Scout who would've taken Darko over Lebron in the '03 Draft. https://t.co/lkV7ziI68E via @arguspress pic.twitter.com/LTHVwB23MC
— Freezing Cold Takes (@OldTakesExposed) December 28, 2015
For the kicker, how about current Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who advocated for Milicic over LeBron in 2003, claiming “in three or four year, he will be the better pick.”
In May, 2003 Mike D'Antoni suggested that Darko Milicic would end up being better than LeBron (via Rocky Mtn News) pic.twitter.com/EVJEhqbO8G
— Freezing Cold Takes (@OldTakesExposed) May 20, 2016
Milicic ended up being one of the biggest busts in NBA history. Anthony has had a tremendous NBA career, but has yet to lead a team to an NBA championship, and just isn’t on the same level as James, who has won multiple championships, multiple MVPs, and may go down as the greatest player of all time when all is said and done. Safe to say the hype was warranted and most experts were on point with LeBron.