Cover the NBA long enough and you’re guaranteed to have at least one awesome LeBron James story.
So two years after we asked a bunch of journalists who covered Kobe Bryant to tell us their favorite stories about the Lakers legend, we thought it was time to turn our attention to the purple and gold’s current superstar.
What you’ll find below is a compilation of memories, anecdotes, and tales from various members of the media that paints a portrait of who LeBron James is—on the court, but more importantly off it. All are personal, all are very different, and chances are you haven’t heard them before.
Cassidy Hubbarth, an ESPN sideline reporter who has interviewed LeBron numerous times for the Worldwide Leader in Sports, shares an anecdote about LeBron’s impressive memory.
“I was able to talk to him after that game-winner against the Timberwolves [last season] and it was right before the trade deadline. Tension in that locker room was palpable, but LeBron took over and from that point on I had a string of games with him. My most memorable post-game with him was in Denver when he hit three dagger jumpers in the final minute of the game. At that point he was averaging a triple-double since the Timberwolves [game] and still hadn’t missed a game that season so I asked him where would he say his game is at. He told me ‘An all time high.’ So obviously when a four-time MVP and three-time champ is playing at his best it’s going to make headlines, but it was also something LeBron really wanted people to know because he brought it up a couple of times on the podium at the NBA Finals. I interviewed him again after they beat the Raptors heading into the playoffs. I brought up how he told me his game was at an all time high. So I asked him what is his motivation in year 15? And he went back at me and said, ‘Do you believe me yet?’ It caught me off-guard. Like I paused. I think the question was rhetorical. Then I went back at him and said exactly how I felt. I believe you. To me that string of interactions, growing up as a Jordan fan, being able to see him put together the performances he did last year during that stretch heading into the playoffs were really like people continued to talk about taking him for granted, but really that was a turning point for a lot of people thinking that he’s in the discussion—even the most stubborn Jordan fans, like myself it was almost like being turned into or acknowledging that he’s in the discussion. Having those interviews with him I think I’ll always remember that as the years go by in my career.”
Lee Jenkins, currently the executive director of research and identity for the Los Angeles Clippers and formerly Sports Illustrated’s lead NBA feature writer, wrote multiple cover stories about James during his 11-year run with the magazine. Jenkins’s most memorable encounter with LeBron came in the immediate aftermath of his first championship in Miami when LeBron crashed a wedding.
“He had just won his first championship. The first time I had ever interviewed him was April of ’12 and it was in a hotel in Jersey City and I interviewed him for like an hour. I thought the interview went really well and he was in the midst of this great individual season and I said, 'When you win it in two months I want to sit down with you right afterwards.' And he said, 'Ok.' So I saw him before Game 1 in Oklahoma City and I gave him a quick little wave as sort of ‘I hope we’re still on if you win this thing and we can talk.’ He did give me the time. I met him at the Ritz in Coconut Grove. It was 48 hours after they beat the Thunder. I was supposed to meet him on the bottom floor of the Ritz and I was supposed to get a conference room. He shows up and he’s got Bronny with him, who was so little, Bryce, and a couple of his friends. This Jewish wedding was starting to percolate in the area—like pictures were laid out, but nobody was out yet. So I said to him it was a beautiful day out, can we do this on the veranda? He’s like, 'Sure.' So we go out there and I’m talking to him—I might have talked to him for 45 minutes—and I’m sort of wondering when it this wedding going to get going because this would be really an interesting blend and all of the sudden people start coming down and seeing him. They’re pointing at him and the guests are banging on the windows and they’re all in their tuxes and everything. And he kind of looks at them and looks at me, and I’m like, ‘Hey, I didn’t know this was going to happen.’ So we walk out and he walks out into the wedding and everybody kind of raises a glass to him and he said ‘L’Chaim’ to everybody. And he just said, ‘You’re getting rings, I’m getting a ring.” It was really cool. He went in there and took a picture with the bride and groom.”
Chris Broussard, a Fox Sports analyst and co-host of The Odd Couple radio show and podcast, wrote several cover stories on LeBron during his days at ESPN the Magazine. Broussard remembers the first time he interviewed LeBron when The King was low-key testing him.
“When I first got to ESPN the Magazine, he had cut the magazine off, because they had done a story on him a year or two earlier—he had the white durag on—and it painted his mom in a negative light. When I get there, his publicist at the time had wanted to restore the relationship. I was good friends with one of the guys who was in LeBron’s inner circle at the time—he’s not anymore. So [to LeBron] he was like, look, if you want to restore this relationship with ESPN I’ve got this guy you can trust. So [his publicist] hooks it up, we’re going to do this story with LeBron. So you remember that movie Glory Road? So LeBron had interest in that. I went to watch Glory Road privately with LeBron—and I didn’t know LeBron at this time—and Maverick [Carter] and Randy [Mims], his personal manager, I’m sure Rich [Paul] was there, and a bodyguard. He recognized my face, because he had seen me at a few things, but it was cold. He was trying to check me out. So we’re sitting in the movie, and they’re sitting in the front, and I’m kind of sitting behind them, and they start talking about some Cavs stuff, some personal stuff, some locker room stuff, and he’s like, ‘Yo, that’s off the record.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s cool.’ Over time he got comfortable with me. I interviewed him the next day one-on-one, and I probably did five or six cover stories on LeBron. He’s a good dude. Back then it did look like he was sizing me up. They were seriously talking, I think it was more like, ‘We’ll let this dude know.’ But he said it with some sternness.
“One of the stories that I was doing, I don’t know if you remember the Walker family [LeBron] was living with, from like fifth to eighth grade, for his mom to get stuff together. Frankie Walker was the father. The story is his father, so the grandfather, he picked up LeBron—I think LeBron was in seventh grade—from school one day and the principal runs out to meet the grandfather and says, ‘This kid could be president one day.’ And he was dead serious. I guess it was just his charisma.”
Caron Butler, who spent 14 years in the league battling LeBron, is a Spectrum SportsNet studio analyst and a contributor to TNT’s NBA coverage. Butler appreciated the time LeBron showed he and his family a little love on the red carpet.
“This has nothing to do with basketball. Recently, I had the family out and this happened two times over a span of a two month period where I’m in a location and I’m barely seeing him so I don’t know how he sees me in a crowd full of people, celebrities, etc. One time it was at the Uninterrupted premiere where they had a huge party with Draymond [Green] and all those other guys are there. The other is at the animated film he just dropped, Smallfoot. You know how the red carpets are, just a huge clusterfuck, and he walks by and he didn’t say hi. We all understand you’re busy, shit happens, you continue to go on. He literally circled around, came back, and apologized. He said, ‘Hey man, I’m sorry I didn’t see you. Respect to your family. Let me know if you need anything if you’re good.’ Like that’s the type of person he is. He’s never too big for no one or anybody. I had my kids with me at the Smallfoot premiere, and he did the same thing. My daughter was like, ‘Holy shit.’ My seven-year-old daughter was like, ‘Dad, you know LeBron James?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, he knows me.’ I’ll never forget that and my kids will never forget that. My daughter remembers faces, watching television, and obviously he’s probably one of the most celebrated and visual guys in the sports space, so she knows when she sees him, and she was just lit up from ear-to-ear. There was nothing else I could have did to make her feel any better. Now she thinks every time we go to a red carpet we might bump into LeBron James. It was special. Man, I got points for that one. For people to go out of their way, I’m telling you about 85-90 percent of the guys who are superstars, or guys that are not even superstars, wouldn’t think that’s important. He’s different. He really is. He’s a different cat.”
Kristen Ledlow is a NBA TV host and NBA on TNT reporter. She remembers an emotional LeBron appreciating how far he’s come.
“There are so many that come to mind both personally and professionally, but when I think about the one story that sums him up as not just a basketball player, but as a man, he asked me to come co-host his LeBron 12 launch at the Nike headquarters a few years ago. And the night before the launch, we all went to dinner: Me, LeBron, and his management team and, of course, the Nike Basketball team as well. He told a story which I won’t go entirely into detail on solely because it’s his story to tell, but it reflected the reality that as a child be couldn’t even afford one pair of basketball shoes. With tears in his eyes, he looked around the table and proposed a toast and thanked everyone for making it possible that he just had 12 pairs of shoes named after him. To watch him in that moment recognize the influence he had not just as a basketball player with a basketball shoe, but as a man impacting younger generations was an incredibly powerful thing. When I think about my favorite LeBron moment that continues to come to mind, because I won’t forget his face, I won’t forget his tone, and I won’t forget this man realize how much influence and power he has in the position he is.
“That was the most emotional I had seen him up until that point. The second most emotional was the following year after [the Cavs] came back from down 3-1 in the NBA Finals after Game 7. But what’s funny about that series is he told me after they were, I believe, down 2-1, in passing at one of the media availability days, he said, ‘Hey, we’re still going to win this.’ And I kind of giggled and he walked away. And then they’re down 3-1, and he said it again at the following media availability like, ‘What’d I tell you? We’re still going to win this.’ At that point, it was like, ‘OK. should I word my questions differently?’ He kept saying the same thing, and I will never ever forget walking into the Cavaliers locker room after Game 7, and they’re all celebrating—some of them were crying, some of them were laughing, they were all popping champagne, and I had covered the Cavaliers throughout that NBA Finals run. And he looked at me like, ‘I told you I was going to do it.’”
Jackie MacMullan is a senior writer for ESPN who has covered the NBA for decades. Her LeBron story took place last season when she tried to interview The King for a Kyrie Irving story she was working on.
“I was assigned to do a Kyrie Irving story last year after he was in Boston. I went to Cleveland and everybody said don’t bother coming, because nobody’s going to talk to you, especially LeBron, which I can understand. But I still have to do my job. So I went into the locker room and one of the last things that Kyrie said to me in this interview was pretty revealing. He said, ‘They didn’t want me there.’ I thought that was pretty interesting and revealing. So I went up to LeBron and he put his hands up, and I said, ‘I just have one question: Why would Kyrie say that they didn’t really want me there?’ And he said, ‘I have no idea.’ Even though that doesn’t sound like a lot, it was really great for the story. And then I asked him another question and he said, ‘I gotta go.’ And I looked at him and he said, ‘Maybe someday we’ll talk about something I like.’”
Ryan Hollins played 10 years in the NBA and can be seen and heard all over your TV and radio including as an analyst for Prime Ticket’s coverage of the Los Angeles Clippers. He remembers the moment when LeBron really became LeBron in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals.
“This is more my respect LeBron story. We [the Celtics] were in the Eastern Conference Finals on the verge of getting an NBA championship. This is the game where LeBron became LeBron. We had gone up 3-2 in the series with a chance to close it out at home and not an analyst in the world or a person in the world gave Miami a shot, because the knock on LeBron James was he could not finish in big games, he couldn’t play in big games, he wasn’t ready for the moment. We threw every double team, every triple team, we played perfect playoff basketball at home and he gave us, I want to say, 45, 15, and probably 7 that game [ed.’s note: It was 45, 15, and 5]. That was the moment forever, because it was a respect thing for him. He’s soft, he’s this, he’s that. In the locker room we thought he was soft. We didn’t think he was tough enough to feel the pressure and beat us. We wanted Miami and they would collapse under pressure. From that day forward he was King. There’s nothing that’s surprised me. Those Game 7s last season, everyone’s like, ‘Oh what’s going to happen? LeBron’s not looking too hot.’ Don’t worry, he’ll be ready. It was interesting from the Miami end, Juwan Howard was one of my veterans and he was on that team. He said before they went and boarded that plane [LeBron] stopped everybody before they got on and said, “If you don’t have 100 percent faith that we win this game, if you’re not coming in here for a war, if there’s nothing else on your mind don’t come on this plane. And I swear to God you better get off.’ You have to appreciate him different than you’re going to appreciate Michael, you’re going to appreciate Kobe because he’s different. In my mind, he’s better than Michael, he’s better than Kobe. I had to stop holding that bias against him, because he does it his way.”
Jemele Hill is a staff writer for The Atlantic and the narrator of the documentary executive produced by LeBron, Shut Up and Dribble. She remembers LeBron’s unselfish play during his first nationally televised game in high school.
“My favorite memory of LeBron was his first nationally televised high school game on ESPN. This was when he was at St. Mary’s. I was working at the Detroit Free Press at the time, and, of course, everybody in the area, in the nation, wanted to know if this guy was legit, does he really have the goods? I remember looking at him pre-game, I wondered somebody needs to check his birth certificate, because there’s no way this kid is 17 years old, because he was bigger than everybody in the arena. But what was interesting, too, is that he already had a star power about him that was incredible for somebody that age. JAY-Z was at the game, other celebrities, he was yukking it up with Dick Vitale. Physically, the way he looked, he could play in the NBA the next night. Then during the game, I hadn’t seen him before and heard about how he was a good passer and some people compared him to Magic Johnson. I’m like, yeah, we’ll see. But what impressed me was he really did try the most to get his teammates involved. That was clearly very important to him. He knew at any moment he could go off for 50 or 60 points. But to him, the more important thing was to make sure his teammates were in a position to be able to showcase themselves. It was on national TV and these are high school kids. So he was just selfless during the game. Then after the game, he’s walking in the hallway and it’s clear that he’s not only the best player on the team, but the most liked. And that said a lot about his personality, his charisma, that in a situation where everyone around him at that age has every reason to be jealous of him, to resent him, they were all legit cheering for him and in on this moment that they were all sharing.”
Allie LaForce is a NBA TV host and NBA on TNT reporter. She started her career in Cleveland during LeBron’s first run with the Cavs so she goes way back with him. She appreciates how he set the record straight following their memorable post-game interview last postseason.
“Being from Cleveland too, I have a lot of emotions when it comes to him. But I think just covering the NBA full-time now and looking at it more objectively, I’ll go with the story that I think tells his character really well. Last year in the playoffs in April, I was covering a game and the news of Gregg Popovich’s wife passing had just been released and we announced it during the game. It was obviously devastating to basketball and everybody had known that LeBron was close to them so it was a relevant topic to talk to him about and something TNT wanted to address with him. After the game ended, I asked him a few basketball questions then I asked him about the passing of Pop’s wife and he was obviously devastated and shocked and hurt. He wanted to address it. He is the voice of the NBA. He really is. It was something where his answer was heard league wide and it was passionate and it was emotional and it was a really hard moment for him. A lot of people thought that I had blindsided him and thought that it wasn’t appropriate to ask him at that time. But what they didn’t know was I pulled him aside before the interview and let him know the news and I told him that I wanted to ask him the question and ask what he thought. It sort of took him a second to just take in the news and he said let’s do it. He felt comfortable me asking him on live television so I did. But most people didn’t know the side story that I pulled him aside.
“After the game there was a lot of criticism online and that was something I was willing to live with. But LeBron being the bigger person that he is and this incredible advocate for what’s right, he wanted to make sure the message was clear that he was okay with the question being asked and that I followed protocol and told him I was going to ask the question. In the playoffs when he’s not on social media at all—he’s made that very clear that’s a rule of his—he took a cell phone video in his car on the way home and it basically said she gave me a heads up and followed protocol and I’m okay with her asking me that question. He didn’t owe me anything—he’s in the middle of the playoffs and carrying this Cleveland Cavaliers team and that should have been the last thing on his mind—but he wanted to make sure that everybody was treated fair and the truth was known. I thought that showed a lot about his character. That really meant the world to me.
“When I saw him the next game, I saw him across the locker room and everybody was sorta like gathering around his locker wanting to talk to him about the game. I didn’t want to be a distraction at all. I kind of looked at him and said thank you and he gave me a fist bump and said, ‘I got you.’”
Ros Gold-Onwude is a NBA TV contributor & NBA on TNT reporter. Before she started covering James, she was an intern at Nike who challenged LeBron in a game of PIG while rocking a yellow dress.
“I was still at Stanford, playing basketball as a student-athlete there. In the summers I took internships with Nike. I’m there in 2008, getting ready for the Olympics. They had everybody come to the Beaverton campus, the world headquarters, and do a send-off. LeBron came and they built a court outside and all the interns came out. I always came to work in dresses. So they built this court and everybody came out to see the send-off to Beijing, and there was some kind of PIG contest and everybody could play against each other for a chance to play LeBron at the end. So I wasn’t going to play, but my friend signed me up, and I literally have on a yellow dress and sandals and other people are there in hoop gear and sneakers. I came on the court, and I became a quick fan favorite because everybody’s like, ‘Oh, look at the girl in the dress.’ I was a full-time athlete playing ball at Stanford, so I beat everybody. The crowd was really into it. So I was the finalist that got to play against LeBron in PIG. You can actually see clips on YouTube that’s ‘Girl in dress beats LeBron’ or something. But I never met LeBron. I’m going up against him. He’s huge. I don’t think I’ve seen a basketball player that big. He’s football player big. I believe he was wearing a Roger Federer hat, and the whole time he was having fun, he was mic’d up, he was talking mess through it. And at first I’m ahead. I think I hit a jumper. Then I hit a left-handed jump shot and LeBron missed. Lynn Merritt [LeBron’s brand manager at Nike] comes over and really kind of hated on me like, ‘She can’t win. She’s an NCAA athlete.’ So after that, I think LeBron started doing some cheat stuff, like one time he went up and dunked it, and, obviously, I didn’t match that. I forget who won, but I remember how cool it was talking mess to him. I got some incredible photos out of it. Afterwards, everybody’s clamoring because he’s signing balls and passing them out. And I remember on his way out, he had tossed a ball to me he had signed. And some guy jumped out of the crowd in front of me and grabbed the ball and LeBron came over to the guy and said, ‘Give her the ball,’ and made him give me the ball. I got the ball, I got the picture, and I almost got the win.”