One day, many years from now, long after LeBron James’ career runs its expected course and leads him into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, hoop heads across the globe will look back on one event as the day LeBron introduced himself to the basketball world.
Sure, James has been a part of basketball lore since his days dominating kids half his size at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School in Ohio, and yes, Nike crowned him "king" months before the Cleveland Cavaliers made this first-of-his-kind man-child the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. But it wasn’t until the 2006 All-Star Game in Houston that James truly claimed his throne.
The 2006 exhibition wasn’t his first All-Star appearance -- fans made him an Eastern Conference starter in 2005, where he scored 13 points in the first East victory in three seasons -- but it may prove to be his finest. James stole the show in Houston, upstaging memorable dunks
from Nate Robinson
and Andre Iguodala
the night before, and the 36 points pumped in by hometown hero Tracy McGrady
James was all over the court from the opening tip to the final buzzer. He scored 29 points in just over 30 minutes, but it was his play in the second half that stamped this performance as something special, something greater than the other moments that had highlighted his already brilliant three-year career.
With the East trailing by 17 at the half, and by as many as 21 early in the third, James kicked it into gear by scoring 13 points in the first six minutes of the frame, capped by a pair of threes that cut the deficit to six points. His mini-eruption ignited his teammates and his coach.
"(James) can get a jump shot whenever he wants,” said East coach Flip Saunders, who represented the Pistons along with Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace. “He can get to the basket almost whenever he wants, and he just does things so easy."
In the fourth quarter, James scored only four points but saved the game when he got a hand on McGrady’s potential game-tying jumper. He got a hand on something else, as well. “On his way up, I got a piece of his arm and a piece of the ball,” James said afterward. “I guess it was a great defensive play.”
James didn’t get rung up for the foul -- it was an All-Star Game, after all -- and just like that, the East walked off with a 122-120 victory. The 21-year-old James was named MVP, becoming the youngest player to take home the award. A rookie by the name of Oscar Robertson won it in 1961; he was 22.
“The MVP was never in my mind,” James said, downplaying his momentous achievement. “Just winning the ballgame was."
It is that winner-take-all attitude that has made James the lethal force that he is. Jordan had it. Russell had it. And by all indications, James seems to have it, too.
“He has a chance to maybe be the best ever to lace them up,” Billups said after James’ heroics in Houston. “At 21 years old right now, and doing what he’s doing ... I mean, the kid should be a junior in college.”
We all know it takes championships to truly secure greatness, and James’ fingers are void of any celebratory jewelry. But the All-Star Game was James’ coming-out party, the first step on a season-long odyssey toward immortality.
Coming out of Houston, James would lead the Cavaliers to their first playoff berth in eight years. With three regular-season games left, he is averaging 31.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.6 assists. Could that other MVP award be bestowed upon him, as well? We'll find out soon enough.
In the meantime, should Cleveland go on to win an NBA title, either this season or in a season to come, everyone can look back to one Sunday in February when the basketball world first bowed before its future king.