|Saturday, February 8
Updated: February 12, 5:38 PM ET
'Martyr James' is even a bigger hit than 'King James'
By Adrian Wojnarowski
Special to ESPN.com
TRENTON, N.J. -- There was LeBron James flexing in the middle of Sovereign Bank Arena, arms out, muscles rippling, and he was laughing. Yes, King James was laughing now. Everyone just stood stunned and speechless, wiping the disbelief out of eyes, the skepticism out of mind. All the acrimony, all the furor, much of the nation watching his every move -- and LeBron James was just laughing and laughing and laughing.
Fifty-two points dropping out of the sky on a night Los Angeles' Westchester High School wouldn't catch James himself until a buzzer-basket left it a 78-52 loser to St. Vincent-St. Mary of Akron, Ohio. Across the NBA, they need to understand: Get to the lottery, get there now.
"After the Hummer investigation, I scored 50 points," James said. "After this one, I scored 52. After the next one ..."
Who knows? Who knows where it ends for him?
The legend of LeBron James grows with every twist and turn. After missing the game last Sunday in Akron as part of his short-lived banishment, James thundered back into the basketball season Saturday night. And he clogged the lone blemish in his game, his shooting, with seven sparkling 3-pointers that included a running, one-handed 35-footer to end the first quarter and turn the sellout crowd of 9,000 into a fawning mosh pit.
Westchester's players started the night determined to make James' life miserable, but ended it unsure whether they wanted James' autograph or to pose for pictures with him. They were done trying to cover him. This happens to everyone. They give in to James' greatness. This is the blessing and the curse for LeBron James, what makes his life ridiculously easy and ridiculously difficult.
"Give him back the jerseys," the kids in the stands chanted.
James is a throwback to nothing. There has never been anyone like him. Anyone. This isn't a rock show, but a generational happening. James walked into the arena to the blizzard of buzz that used to come with Michael and Magic. Kids rushed the baselines, grown-ups packed the aisles on tippy toes and everybody wanted to see him make his way into the Prime Time Shootout on Saturday night. Outside, scalpers were getting $500 a ticket, beating back the prices of those Unseld and Sayers jerseys that cost James two high school games with the overturned suspension.
Adidas' Sonny Vaccaro was right. The Ohio High School Athletic Association had turned him into a martyr. He's bigger than ever, the kid tossing aside the bureaucrats to fly again, unstoppable on the court, and off it.
"When I make mistakes now, I don't look at it as, 'Why me?' " James said. "I'm glad this happened so early in my life. I've got it over early and it won't happen again."
All along, James swears there are lessons learned, a resolve reinforced. When the world is watching him closest, waiting for him to stumble back into the abyss, there goes LeBron James dancing on stars. St. Vincent-St. Mary is the nation's No. 1 high school team, pushing hard for the mythical national championship, pushing hard for history.
He's going to take the national and Ohio championships, take the $30 million, the $40 million -- who knows where it's going now? -- and become the No. 1 choice in the NBA draft. LeBron James is going to take it all and he knows it, he knows it. So, King James stood in the middle of Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, N.J., lifted his arm, flexed his muscle, and laughed and laughed and laughed.
When you're 18 years old, you feel like the world revolves around you. Only, the strangest thing is happening to James now. More and more with him, he's starting to see: It does.
Adrian Wojnarowski is a columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj@aol.com.