At just 24 years of age, LeBron James has already cemented himself as one of the best talents in the history of the National Basketball Association. What is most impressive is the way in which James has handled his success and fame.
I witnessed up close another example of that Saturday night at the Division II boys basketball state championship game at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
James was on hand to watch his former high school team, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, play Dayton Thurgood Marshall. James also was honored at halftime of the game for his contributions to Ohio high school sports.
There was certainly a buzz around the arena in the pregame warmups, when James stood near the St. Vincent-St. Mary bench. Fans, both young and old, frantically reached for their camera phones to snap a picture of the ultra popular Cavalier.
James, who sat in the front row directly behind the St. Vincent-St. Mary bench, was boisterous throughout the game as he cheered on his Irish squad. He even joined the team’s huddle during a timeout.
AP PHOTO | PAUL VERNON
To James’ delight, St. Vincent-St. Mary rallied late to pull out a 59-53 victory. The Irish won despite a gutsy effort from Thurgood Marshall’s 5-11 junior point guard Juwan Staten.
Staten, who already has verbally committed to play at the University of Dayton, was sensational. He scored 28 points despite being knocked around all night by a physical St. Vincent-St. Mary defense.
Thurgood Marshall was playing without its best inside player Greg Gainey, who suffered a pair of ankle injuries in the regionals. However, Staten picked up the slack and did his best to will his team to a title.
As the final buzzer sounded, James skirted through the bench area onto the floor and quickly hugged a couple members of the St. Vincent-St. Mary coaching staff. As the Irish players celebrated at mid-court, however, James made a beeline to the Thurgood Marshall end of the court.
He was looking for Staten. Visibly upset by his team’s loss, Staten was hunched over, fighting tears near the end of his team’s bench.
James grabbed Staten’s jersey and pulled the young player to an open spot on the court. James then put his arm around the crying Staten and spoke to him for several minutes.
“I didn’t know who had me ’til I heard everybody saying, ‘That’s LeBron ... It’s LeBron,’ ” Staten told the Dayton Daily News. “When I picked my head up, I saw it was LeBron James.”
Staten said James offered some words of encouragement and the Cavaliers’ star shared the story of how he lost in the state championship game as a junior, but was able to come back and win the title as a senior.
I cannot fathom the mixed emotions Staten must have been feeling. He was obviously devastated by his team’s loss, but I am sure he will forever remember being consoled by a legendary sports figure.
It was a gesture James didn’t have to do. He could have just jetted out of the arena to his awaiting limo and nobody would have batted an eye. But for him to take the time to lift up Staten in a time of great disappointment was a show of class James has become known for.
In a sports world that continues to have its share of black eyes, it’s refreshing to see an athlete like James, who has refused to let all the money and fame go to his head.