How Aaliyah's Tragic Death Motivated LeBron James to Play Football in High School

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst claims the four-time NBA MVP was “not going to live his life being afraid” following the death of one of his favorite singers.

Image via Getty/Ronald Martinez

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst shared during his appearance on NBA Today that the tragic death of Aaliyah played a role in LeBron James' high school career.

According to Windhorst, LeBron chose to play football in his junior year at St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, Ohio because he was determined to not "live his life being afraid" in the wake of Aaliyah's passing in 2001. The 22-year-old singer was among nine people who died in a plane crash on a flight headed from the Bahamas to Florida.

"He was gonna stop playing after his sophomore year, and then Aaliyah, one of his favorite singers, died in that plane crash and he decided that he was not gonna live his life being afraid," Windhorst said.

“[LeBron James] was going to quit football after his sophomore year, then Aaliyah, one of his favorite singers, died in a plane crash. He decided he wasn't going to live life scared."

Brian Windhorst reveals why LeBron played football 🏈

(via @ESPNNBA)

— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) October 11, 2023
Twitter: @ClutchPoints

A 2002 Sports Illustrated article written by Grant Wahl lays out a slightly different timeline of James' football career in relation to Aaliyah's death. According to Wahl, LeBron's mother Gloria refused to let her son play football and only changed her mind after the singer's passing.

"You're not promised tomorrow," James said at the time. "I had to be out on the field with my team."

LeBron caught 60 passes for 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns as a wide receiver in his junior year. He was considered the No. 1 prospect in Ohio. Back in 2020, James posted a news clipping about him, while also revealing he did not play football in his senior year because his friends vowed to do everything they could to prevent him from getting back on the field.

James was selected by his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, with the first overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. Four NBA titles, four NBA Finals MVPs, four league MVPs, and 19 All-Star selections later, it's safe to say LeBron—as he puts it—made a smart decision."

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