On one of the biggest days of his life, LeBron James took the long way home. Once inside his hometown’s city limits, James pulled his high-powered Ferrari off I-77 and drove the back roads to St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, his alma mater.
Turning on Maple Street, he went past his first house on Hickory. Then, it was past the one on Silver Street, where his mother, Gloria, began raising him by herself. James visited The Boondocks, where he and his friends first dribbled on the playgrounds.
James retraced the steps on Monday. His path to NBA superstardom.
An unstoppable offensive force who became an elite defender this season, James claimed the league MVP, receiving the award in the gym where he first became a star.
“This is a place where all my dreams started and where I thought they could become real,” James said. “There’s really not a better place.”
The Ohio kid anointed King James as a teenager has a new crown.
An MVP vote some expected to be close was another slam dunk by James. He received 109 of a possible 121 first-place votes to easily outdistance Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. James totaled 1,172 points in balloting by media members in the U.S. and Canada.
Bryant, last year’s winner, got two first-place votes and finished with 698 points. Miami guard Dwyane Wade was third with 680 points and was named first on seven ballots. Orlando center Dwight Howard (328) was fourth followed by New Orleans guard Chris Paul (192).
The race was never in doubt. It was James all along.
“I’m 24 years old and I’m receiving this award, I never thought it would happen this fast,” he said, standing under three state title banners he helped win for the Fighting Irish. “I never dreamed about being MVP, but if I said I didn’t enjoy this award I’d be lying. Hard work pays off and dreams do come true.”
James is the first Cavaliers player to win the award. He averaged 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.2 assists this season, his sixth as a pro. He also finished second in voting for defensive player of the year, making him perhaps the league’s most dominant two-way player since Michael Jordan.
Along with a trophy, James was given a new car, which he donated to a local charity.
After learning he won, James knew he wanted to share it with family and friends. He knew there was only one place to do it: At his beloved St. V., the school where he was a high school phenom.
As James – who got a police escort for the final miles – drove up about an hour before the ceremony in his metallic gray $225,000 car with W1TNES vanity license plates, a crowd chanting “M-V-P” rushed into the street outside the school.
The scene was more civil later when James took the stage and was serenaded by hundreds of students sitting in the same bleachers he used to.
The setting was fitting for James, who earlier this year had the words “Loyalty” and “Family” tattooed vertically along his rib cage.
In the past, the MVP trophy has been presented at team practice facilities or arenas. But James wanted a special location.
League spokesman Brian McIntyre said the intimate ceremony was unlike any before.
“When he heard what LeBron wanted to do, we gave it about a second’s thought, and said that’s a great idea,” he said. “This was wonderful.”
James credited his Cavaliers teammates, who attended the ceremony along with coach Mike Brown, for raising their games in Cleveland’s best season ever. The Cavs went 66-16, 39-2 at home and earned the top seed in the playoffs – a franchise first.
“Individual accolades come when team success happens,” James said. “You look at those 14 guys over there, I got the award because of them. They put in the work.”
James invited his teammates to the podium and presented each with an expensive camera.
“This award is going to be like the both of ours, but I’m going to keep it at my house,” he cracked.
At 24 years, 106 days on the final day of the regular season, James is the youngest player to win the award since Moses Malone (24 years, 16 days) in 1978-79. Wes Unseld was 23 when he won it in 1968-69.
James vied all season for MVP honors with Bryant and Wade, his teammates on the U.S. gold medalist Olympic team last summer.
“He deserved it,” Wade said. “I said all year, I thought LeBron was the MVP of this league. He’s a guy who every year is going to be in that conversation. … He showed it all year, especially with his team’s success.”
Focused from the start, the 6-foot-8, 250-pound James sharpened his already formidable skills this season.
He started a career-high 81 games and set personal bests in field-goal (49) and free-throw (79) percentages as well as blocks (93). James became the second player to post five straight seasons of at least 27 points, six rebounds and six assists. The other is Robertson, whose versatile game is the one to which James’ is most often compared.
James nearly averaged a triple-double – 32 points, 11.3 rebounds and 7.5 assists – as the top-seeded Cavaliers breezed through the first round of the playoffs, sweeping Detroit in four games. Cleveland hosts the Atlanta Hawks in Game 1 on Tuesday.
“My mission hasn’t been completed,” James said. “I still I have a lot of things I want to do this season. I want to have another celebration in June.”
With his longtime girlfriend, Savannah, and their two sons sitting up front, James thanked his family, friends and former teammates during a touching speech. Promising not to cry, he spoke fondly of his mom, who struggled to raise her only son.
“I don’t know how you did it,” James said.
Better than anyone, Gloria James understood her son’s trip through his old neighborhoods.
“It didn’t surprise me,” she said. “He has never forgotten where he came from.”
Soon, it was time for James to head home, a place he never left.