LeBron James is the superstar guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers and a four-time winner of the NBA's most valuable player award. LeBron James was a high school phenomenon in Akron, Ohio; he skipped college to jump straight to the NBA, at the same time signing a $90 million endorsement deal with Phil Knight
's Nike shoe company. Many wondered if James could live up to the public's intense expectations, but he did: during the 2003-04 season he had 20.9 points, 5.7 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game, and was voted Rookie of the Year after leading the Cavaliers to a 35-47 season. (The previous year they had been 17-65). LeBron James became a popular and marketable player and joined Carmelo Anthony
and Dwyane Wade
among the NBA's big attractions. In 2006 the Cavaliers made their first playoff appearance since 1998, and James signed a contract extension worth $60 million that kept him with the Cavaliers through the 2009-10 season. When the contract ended in 2010 he jumped to the Miami Heat, forming a presumed super-trio with fellow free agents Wade and Chris Bosh. The move to Miami (he famously described it as "taking my talents to South Beach") made James a pariah in Cleveland, but it paid off for James himself when the Heat won back-to-back NBA championships in 2012 and 2013. They beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games in 2012, and the San Antonio Spurs in 7 games in 2013. (James was also named the MVP of both series.) By then, James was the NBA's biggest star, with an unbeatable combination of size, speed, basketball IQ and off-the-court charisma. In 2014 he surprised his fans by reversing course, opting out of his Miami Heat contract and returning to Cleveland to play again for the Cavaliers. There he won another NBA championship in 2016, with the Cavaliers roaring back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Golden State Warriors and bring Cleveland its first pro championship in any major sport since 1964. The Cavs played the Warriors in the NBA finals for four straight years, from 2015-18. LeBron James also played on the U.S. Olympic teams in 2004, 2008 and 2012, and on the U.S. team at the 2006 World Championships.