I also met Chris Dennis, the family friend who handled all the business early on, who made sure he got LeBron to Sonny Vaccaro’s camp.
Dennis, who does marketing in the Cleveland-Akron area, was the guy who originally secured the domain name LeBronJames.com early in high school to protect his image. He managed his Web site and helped broker a deal between LeBron’s former agent and a company that ended up paying LeBron seven figures over three years, still unprecedented at that age.
They all formed a protective, if invisible, circle around a golden child so, as his former high school teammate Maverick Carter told me, LeBron would never “lose his glare.”
If you would have told me then that the same kid would grow up to become one of America’s most disliked athletes, that he would be the big-city villain standing between Kevin Durant and small-market Oklahoma City’s NBA Finals dreams, I would have said you are crazy and asked: What’s not to like about his story?
Yes, even at 17, he knew he was famous and destined for the NBA and some of his words felt pre-packaged and programmed. But without the Hummer to drive to school, beneath the tats and jewelry, he was every teenager, U.S.A. — trying to come across much more confident than he really was, wearing a mask of certainty to hide the fact that some nights as a child he had no idea where he would sleep.
Beyond “The Decision,” which he even now regrets, what happened? How did we lose sight of where he came from, how a kid who never knew his biological father, who was never incarcerated, much less arrested for anything, become so reviled? How a latchkey child ended up being raised by a village of extended family that made sure he wouldn’t be another lost soul in the streets.
“Y’all helped create the monster,” Frankie Walker, now 52, said by telephone Monday afternoon from Akron. “Y’all created the ‘King James.’ When it don’t go the way you wanted it to, he didn’t win the championship right away, you changed it up, brought him down.
“Didn’t you make foolish decisions at 21, 22? Everybody has made ’em. But his were magnified. Y’all created the monster. When you build ’em up like that and you put millions on top of that, you not talking about a broke monster; you talkin’ about a rich monster.”
Chris Dennis has another opinion: The circle isn’t the same. For a kid like LeBron who was an only child, who was basically head of his household before he was 10, there would always be voids that needing filling.