LeBron James FAQ: Everything you want to know about The King

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 20: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers prepares for the game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on January 20, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 20: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers prepares for the game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on January 20, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Where does LeBron James rank among the greats? How much does he make? What’s up with his bald spot? This LeBron James FAQ has all your answers.

You probably know the story of LeBron James in broad strokes. Anointed in high school. Delivered by the NBA draft lottery to his (sort of) hometown team. Delivered to greatness by unbelievable skill, intelligence and athletic gifts. Delivered to the center of American culture by forward-thinking business relationships, philanthropy and a savvy media presence. Delivered to the other side of the championship desert by neverending persistence.

You know LeBron. But you still have questions. Don’t worry, we have answers.

Is LeBron better than Michael Jordan was?

Reasonable people can disagree.

Yes, Michael Jordan was a perfect six-for-six in NBA Finals appearances while LeBron has won just three titles in nine Finals appearances. Yes, LeBron has more career points but he’s also played two extra seasons and Jordan missed seasons in his prime while dabbling with baseball, tacking on seasons at the end of his athletic arc with the Wizards.

Jordan averaged more points and steals per game. But LeBron averaged more rebounds and assists, shooing better on both 2- and 3-point field goals. Jordan has a Rookie of the Year and five MVPs, to LeBron’s one and four, respectively. Jordan also won Defensive Player of the Year for the 1987-88 season.

Maybe LeBron gets credit for sustaining his prime for a much longer time? Maybe Jordan wouldn’t have been so dominant in his second three-peat if he hadn’t taken a year and a half off. Maybe he seems better because he walked away at the top of his game in 1998 and we didn’t get the chance to see him slowly decline over the next few years?

The answer to this question is “maybe.” You get to decide based on how you weigh factors like individual accomplishments versus team success, scoring versus versatility, the relative level of competition across eras and peak performance versus longevity. There are no wrong answers.

Is LeBron better than Kobe Bryant was?

Yes, next question.

If he’s so good, why did LeBron keep losing in the Finals?

This is a matter of conflating individual excellence with team outcomes.

LeBron lost in five separate Finals and four of the teams he lost to — the 2016-17 Warriors, 2014-15 Warriors, 2006-07 Spurs and the 2013-14 Spurs rank among the 31 best regular-season teams of all time by strength-of-schedule-adjusted point differential. He was caught napping and embarrassed by the 2011 Mavericks but otherwise suffered from the misfortune of running into historic dynasties. That may sound like an excuse but let’s compare the level of competition he faced in the Finals to what Jordan and Kobe saw.

SRS is a team’s point differential per 100 possessions, adjusted for their strength of schedule. BPM is Box Plus-Minus, a box-score-based estimate of a player’s impact per 100 possessions. Neither is a perfect measure for team quality or player impact but they are reasonable and useful estimates. Here, we can see that LeBron played Finals opponents much tougher than Kobe or Jordan and generally did so with less support. The asterisk in Kobe’s second-best player BPM is because in three of his seven Finals appearances (all of which resulted in rings) he was the second-best player on his team (by BPM), behind Shaq.

So, separate from LeBron’s historic talent and production, his opponents have been tougher and his teammates haven’t been as impactful as those of the players he’s often measured against.

What’s the deal with LeBron’s hairline?

It’s like the tides, always moving and shifting.

Sometimes it’s here:

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NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – MARCH 01: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on March 01, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

And sometimes it’s here:

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CLEVELAND, OH – JANUARY 31: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers walks down court during the second half against the Miami Heat at Quicken Loans Arena on January 31, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Heat 91-89. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

And sometimes it’s doing this in the back:

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MIAMI, FL – MARCH 27: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during a NBA game against the Miami Heat on March 27, 2018 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/Getty Images) /

It can be tough to keep track of because of the intermittent headband use. But LeBron seemed aware of the problem as far back as 2011, and he’s clearly using something to address the thinning. Although whatever he’s using seems to be of substandard quality considering just how many in-game incidents of spontaneous baldness he’s had and the apparent need for ongoing maintenance. Maybe that patch of receding hair under the headband is like his Achilles’ tendon, the one vulnerability in a vessel of immortality.

Didn’t LeBron, like build a school or something?

Sort of. He didn’t like, literally build it with his own hands. But, through his initiative, the LeBron James Family Foundation has helped open and support the I Promise School, a public school in Akron, Ohio that serves at-risk students.

His foundation donated millions to offset startup costs and reportedly takes on as much as 25 percent of the yearly operating costs of the school. His foundation also pays for extra student and family support services for students and families, including uniforms, food, bikes and bike helmets, transportation and job and career placement services. The foundation also negotiated an arrangement with J.P. Morgan and the University of Akron to guarantee free college tuition for every graduating student with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Standardized test scores have shown it to be one of the highest-performing schools in the district and a national outlier in terms of growth.

Is LeBron really the same size as Karl Malone?

I’m not sure exactly where this comparison originated but it’s one that was often repeated, especially during the early days of LeBron’s career — that he’s doing everything he’s doing, the dunks, the passes, the transition blow-bys, at the same size as Karl Malone, the poster-boy for strength-based post play from the 1990s. There is a 2014 video of Horace Grant and Bill Simmons talking about it. There is also a year-old Reddit thread that asks the question without any real definitive answer.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of clarity to be had. The NBA’s official website lists Karl Malone at 6-foot-9 and 259 pounds, although it’s unclear when those measurements are from as he almost certainly got heavier over the course of his career. The official measurements are unreliable anyway. LeBron is listed at 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds so even if we account for some fuzziness around the edges they are at least in the same ballpark.

However, the issue here is less about size and more about how it’s used. The comparison is meant to be flattering to LeBron because he’s creating so much more force out of the same mass. Malone probably doesn’t get enough credit for how well he ran the floor, but this is simply not the same as this. We know that force equals mass times acceleration and even if the listed size measurements were fuzzy enough that Malone had a 25-pound advantage in weight, LeBron would only need to run about 10 percent faster than Malone to generate the same force.

How much money has LeBron made?

A lot. Like, a lot, a lot.

According to Spotrac, he’s made more than $300 million on his basketball contracts through this season, with more than $80 million still due on his Lakers contract over the next two years. According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell (per Bleacher Report), “James’ new contract will push him into the ten-figure mark in career earnings, with nearly 65 percent of that total coming from endorsements.”

In 2019, Forbes estimated his net worth to be about $450 million (net worth and career earnings are not the same because of taxes and, you know, buying stuff). According to Forbes, he also has, “the NBA’s top endorsement portfolio, as well as his own production company (SpringHill Entertainment) and media company (Uninterrupted).”

Here’s another way to think about it.

If LeBron took his estimated net worth of $450 million from 2019 and liquidized all his assets, he’d have enough to buy 150,000 bottles (at $3,000 a pop) of the Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon he loves so much. Laid down end to end, those bottles would cover about 28.4 miles. So, basically, he’s rich enough to walk a marathon drinking a bottle of one of the most expensive bottles of wine in the country for every foot he traveled. And he’d still have enough leftover wine to have Greg Popovich over for dinner every night for the next year.

What’s the greatest LeBron meme of all time?

There are several obvious contenders, including his incredulous reaction to J.R. Smith giving away Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals with an epic brain freeze, ugly crying after finally delivering a title to Cleveland, mechanic LeBron (mustache, cigarette), and his mile-wide-smile photobomb.

These are all canonical, Hall-of-Fame memes but none of them hold up to the raw power of Lance Stephenson blowing in his ear. For someone whose basketball talents are so primary, it feels weird to reduce him to just the complementary character he played in these moments. But Lance’s face may be the premier image of personal satisfaction in our time, and it just doesn’t land the same without LeBron shaking his head in disgust.

What’s the weirdest teammate he’s ever had?

Having played for three different franchises over 17 seasons there are plenty to choose from. You have the “mysterious, disappearing Euros” category, including Jiří WelschBruno Šundov and Martynas Andriuškevičius. There is the “random scrubs who looked amazing next to LeBron” category, which includes, J.J. Hickson, Daniel Gibson, Timofey Mozgov and Matthew Dellavedova. And, of course, there are the “random, over-the-hill veterans who tried to siphon off his life force” — Eric Snow, Ben Wallace, Shaquille O’Neal, Brendan Haywood and Deron Williams. But let’s just go with Cedric Jackson, a 6-foot-3 guard from Cleveland State who played exactly five possessions with LeBron during the 2009-10 season.

Why does he throw chalk in the air before the game? Does he still do that?

Who knows what trivialities lurk in the hearts of men? LeBron’s pre-game chalk toss was so iconic and such a signature of the beginning of his career that Nike even built an ad campaign around it (and it holds up). Chalking his hands (it’s actually talcum powder) was to keep his hands dry as the game started, but in an early interview, he talked about how much fans responded and how it grew from there.

For the most part, LeBron abandoned the ritual after moving to the Miami Heat, presumably out of respect for the fans in Cleveland and the special relationship they had. He may have been clueless about how The Decision would be received but he knew enough not to throw talc in their wounds. He brought it back when he came back to Cleveland but the toss came and went and by 2014 he had mostly abandoned the routine for good.

Since joining the Lakers, LeBron has brought it back but gotten more playful with what used to be a very solemn ritual.

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