LeBron James' greatest accomplishment: Living up to the hype

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Tuesday night — or Thursday night — LeBron James will likely become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, a remarkable accomplishment in many ways. For me, one in particular stands out.

Here is a man who, as a teenager, had the expectations of the world laid on his shoulders … and he managed to surpass every single one of them.

He didn’t just become a great basketball player; he’s in the conversation of greatest to have ever played the game.

He didn’t just lift his family out of poverty; he became a billionaire.

And he didn’t just score a lot of points; he’s about to score more points than anyone else who has ever played in the NBA.

The sports world is littered with world-class talent you’ve never heard of because somewhere along the way life got the worst of them, players such as Schea Cotton, Earl Manigault and Ronnie Fields. They made a bad decision somewhere, didn’t have the commitment to be great or were victims of their surroundings. Something.

There were a million pitfalls between the projects of Akron and supplanting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, but somehow LeBron James managed to avoid almost all of them.

He has certainly made some missteps along the way. The Decision was ill-fated, and his unwillingness to step out of line when it comes to China calls into question his willingness to put his money where his mouth is.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

(Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports illustration)
(Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports illustration)

The totality of LeBron James is an inspirational story. He has taken his life experience — growing up the son of a single teenaged mom, moving from apartment to apartment and sleeping on couches when they couldn’t afford rent — and given back to that same community in ways that will help a lot of young hims. He started the LeBron James Clubhouse, where kids are fed every day, opened an after-school program for kids who don’t have a safe place to go and built the I Promise School, which provides college scholarships to kids who graduate. The list is long.

Even The Decision raised $2.5 million for the Boys & Girls Club of America.

Now, at 38, James is hoping to “hang on” long enough to play with his son — and by “hang on,” we mean averaging 36 minutes and 30 points per game while being the go-to guy on his team for the 20th straight season. Not even the meteoric expectations could have anticipated this.

Nearly 21 years ago, Sports Illustrated put Lebron, then a 17-year-old high school junior, on its cover, calling him “The Chosen One.” In that cover story, the late Grant Wahl described a mock SI cover that hung above the TV in the Jameses’ living room. It featured a picture of LeBron with the question, “Is he the next Michael Jordan?”

“It's preposterously too early to answer, of course,” Wahl wrote, “yet judging from young LeBron's unprecedented rise, it's a question that is at least worth asking.”

These were the expectations going in, and two decades later, LeBron James sits just 35 points behind Jabbar, 36 away from becoming the most prolific scorer in NBA history.

What’s more preposterous: the expectations put on LeBron or the results he has produced?