Wednesday, June 25, 2003

LeBron stays cool in stardom's glare

Prep star prepared for NBA hype

The Associated Press

NEW YORK - LeBron James bopped and swayed to the rap music of 50 Cent, squaring his broad shoulders and leaning straight into the lens as his eyes widened into a playful stare for the briefest of moments.

It was right then that the flash went off, a perfect unison of camera and personality.

One thing about James became clear Tuesday afternoon, a little more than 48 hours before he will become the first overall choice in the NBA draft: The kid is comfortable in the spotlight.

"The first time I got in front of a camera I got nervous. Freshman year, for a district championship," James said after posing for a layout in the men's fashion magazine GQ. "I got real used to it, and I think I'm doing pretty well right now."

Pretty well doesn't even begin to tell the story.

The 18-year-old phenom is about to become the savior of a franchise. The Cleveland Cavaliers will select the can't-miss man-child from Akron, the most hyped prep player ever, No. 1 on Thursday.

There wouldn't be so much hype surrounding James if there weren't something extraordinary to back it up, and James has that one rare quality that separates the Michael Jordans and Magic Johnsons from the Tim Duncans of the basketball world.

It's called charisma - and in James, it is obvious.

"Just being me, my personality, is part of charisma," James said. "I just think I can be myself and people will rate me how they want to rate me, and I'm glad people say that. I think that can carry you a long way."

Behind James' self-assuredness is his adaptation during his formative years to being in the spotlight. After the game during his freshman year when he first played in front of a TV camera, James challenged himself to overcome his fear.

"I knew it was going to keep coming if I kept doing the things I was doing and playing the game of basketball real well, and I had to prepare myself on and off the court," James said.

He won that inner battle, and the accomplishments piled up over the next three years: three state championships, MVP of the McDonald's All-America game, an unprecedented $90 million sneaker contract, a $500,000 wristwatch that he wore throughout his photo shoot.

James is about to enter the NBA as the most hyped American rookie of a generation, trying to find a balance between humility and fame while also attempting to reverse the fortunes of a franchise that hasn't been on national television since 1998.

"Fame is really nothing new to me because I've been selling out gyms since the end of my freshman year and seeing cameras all over the place," James said. "Everything that's going on now is nothing new to me."

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