Viewpoint: Dropping the ball


    LeBron James, the nation’s top high school basketball player, was officially welcomed back to basketball on Wednesday.

    Summit County, Ohio, Judge James R. Williams issued a temporary restraining order that will allow James to resume his high school basketball career, which was terminated last week, after sitting out one game.

    By turning a blind eye to James’ infractions once again, Williams also gave unspoken clearance to James to continue breaking the rules that govern high school athletics.

    Those rules state clearly that prep athletes may not capitalize “on athletic fame by receiving money or gifts of monetary value.” And James has been guilty of dribbling around those rules for a long time.

    Two weeks ago, James, who is expected to be the No. 1 pick in next summer’s NBA Draft, accepted two vintage sports jerseys valued at $845 from a local store in exchange for two photos of the prep athlete that would later hang in the store. After learning of the infraction, the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) immediately stripped James of his eligibility to play high school basketball.

    James later told reporter and former NFL superstar Deion Sanders that he thought the storeowner was giving him the jerseys to reward him for good grades (James reportedly earned a 3.5 GPA).

    Congratulations to James on the good grades, but whether he’s an “A” student or barely passing his classes, accepting those jerseys was still illegal.

    Critics have derided the OHSAA for waiting so long to bust James. He’s been dipping into the forbidden pot of money and gifts long before he accepted those jerseys.

    The most public example was the $50,000 Hummer H2 sport utility vehicle his mother, who is currently unemployed, purchased him for his 18th birthday. Granted, a bank did give his mother the loan and the gift was from a family member, so everything was legal.

    But that wasn’t James’ first offense. James has shoes provided for him by Adidas that have LJ23 (his initials and uniform number) embroidered on them. He wears a specialized Nike wristband during games that reads, “King James.” Those items are supposedly included in package deals Nike and Adidas have with James’ school and high school basketball team, but come on. Something’s not right.

    Nike and Adidas are in a fierce bidding war right now to sign James to a sneaker contract after he finishes high school. Providing him the shoes and wristbands through a contracted deal with his school is nothing more than a slippery loophole.

    Other offenses by James haven’t been so carefully designed to slip through the cracks of high school rules and sanctions. Everywhere James goes he is fully equipped with wireless phones and pagers, and with a Palm Pilot. Neither James nor his family has the money to buy him those things, but everyone always looked the other way … until OHSAA did something about it.

    The jerseys were probably the least of James’ offenses, but they were also the easiest to track. Maybe that’s why the OHSAA finally cracked down on James, terminating his high school basketball career. It was a decision that should have been made long ago. Unfortunately, a judge reversed that decision on Wednesday, and in the process, continued the trend of letting James’ infractions go unpunished.

    Meanwhile, James will continue to feign innocence. Some will cast him as the victim. “Kids make mistakes, right?”

    Wrong. Let’s be realistic. Every time James accepted something from someone without paying for it, he knew it was wrong.

    After all, he earned a 3.5 GPA. He’s a smart kid. He should know better.

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