Back in 2003, Los Angles Lakers icon LeBron James, was on the top of the world at Akron, Ohio’s St. Vincent’s-St. Mary’s High School.
In February of that year, the Ohio High School Athletic Association ruled that James, then a senior and his high school, would have to forfeit play of the team’s remaining five regular-season and state playoff games after he accepted two Mitchell & Ness throwback jerseys as gifts from Next Urban Gear and Music, a local Cleveland-are boutique sports apparel store.
That was deemed a violation of amateur status.
For those keeping score at home: James was gifted a Gale Sayers Chicago Bears jersey and a Wes Unseld Washington Bullets jersey.
In exchange for those jerseys, James, the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ eventual No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft posed for photos that would eventually be hung in the store.
James was the subject of much hate back then especially when his mother, Gloria James gave him a $50,000 Hummer sports utility vehicle as a gift.
Even as a high school student, James was stylish. He once sported a black leather jacket created by Jeff Hamilton and matched the outfit with a black Kobe Bryant jersey and black Lakers hat. “That was the black NBA jacket with all the NBA team logos,” Hamilton recounted during a recent interview on the Heavy Live With Scoop B Show.
“The interesting thing was and nobody knew this and even myself; I didn’t notice that he had a Lakers hat on but also had on a Kobe jersey. And I knew that he was a Kobe fan. His generation grew up more watching Kobe play more than Michael.”
The irony of James now suiting up for the Lakers and winning a World Championship in his second season with the ball club alongside LA teammate, Anthony Davis.
“I remember when he was in high school he gave me his shoes and they were Kobe’s,” said Hamilton.
“Those moon shoes [laughs]. I gave him the jacket way back when. It was kind of like a grey area at the time, but I met his stepdad and I knew it was big in memorabilia at the time and I owned a lot of the jerseys and everybody was buzzing about the name LeBron and he was going to be a great player; and you know every year we always hear about who’s going to be the ‘next’ Michael, who’s going to be the next Kobe, the next Magic; but we knew that LeBron was going to be amazing and we need to get to this kid you know? I knew when he used to come and play high school games I mean; he was selling out arenas. He almost sold out Pauley Pavilion when he came to play a high school game.”
Hamilton said that he and LeBron James made a savvy deal that benefitted them both. “I made him the jacket,” he said.
“I traded him for one of his high school jerseys and a pair of shoes… I don’t know if it was properly sized because at the time you could do it and he got in trouble because was wearing some kind of Mitchell & Ness jersey, and when they did the article that he got caught that somebody was giving him some ‘presents’ and he wasn’t allowed to get presents and I still don’t understand why not, he had on a Mitchell & Ness jersey with my jacket on over it which was in one of the pictures. But they never mentioned my name. Mitchell & Ness got the dislike. And at the time it was 2001 or 2002 because he came out in 2003, and so I put on the inside of the jacket ‘King James’ at the time already.”