Before Lebron’s national high school career tour in 2002, there were 5 players (actually we added a 6th man) who had almost the same kind of hype that Lebron had in his teen years. Notice, we said ALMOST. Its kind of difficult to compare someone who had hype like Lebron had with a nationally televised schedule versus someone in the 90s, when just have their own Slam magazine articles was a big deal. These players organic hype, not hype from the internet or social media. Well, now that we think of it, Lebron was a pre-social media player too. Because high school player (well, now technically international player) LaMelo Ball has a million plus followers on social media, does that mean he is more popular now then Lebron then? Who knows……We do know though, that the guys on this list were the best of the best with huge hype back in the day. So here they are……
Moses Malone- Like most players on this list, Moses was a man amongst boys when he was in high school. Maybe not even “boys” but more like kids. Moses was so far ahead of everyone else in high school that he considered turning pro at a time when no one even considered going pro at 18 a legit option. Going pro was crazy for everyone at that time, at least for everyone not named Moses Malone. Moses came from a family that was dirt poor and Moses also was someone who didn’t care too much for school. The college coaches that came to recruit him tried to sell him on a dream of college being an amazing experience that he could only experience once in lifetime. Moses and his family didn’t care so much for any of that and were more interested in the million dollar contract that the ABA was offering. After Kareem and then Lebron, Moses had the most hype of any high school player ever.
Schea Cotton- Schea was basically the 90s version of Lebron. Schea was such an impressive talent growing up, that major city newspapers were writing articles about him when he was in the 5th and the 6th grade. He was so good that Sports Illustrated wrote and entire article on him when he was just a sophomore (actually it may have even been before the start of his sophomore year) at Mater Dei high school. Kobe Bryant never got his own article that early, neither did Kevin Garnett or Tracey McGrady. We wanted to say that Schea even beat out Lebron, but our research shows that Lebron was getting his own national articles in the 10th grade as well. Just like Lebron, Schea had a man’s body as a 15 and 16 year old. Actually in comparison, the shorter Schea may have ever been more stronger and explosive than Lebron at that age, no joke. We saw Schea play in person at the Boston Shootout, and every time he dunked the backboard would shake and shake. It was like Shaq was dunking, but Schea was only 6’4 not 7’1 300lbs+ that Shaq was. Seriously it was insane. Scouts and college coaches were convinced that a young Schea would skip college and jump straight the pros (which this was before KG had done it and at the time seemed like a crazy idea). Schea’s high school games were so lit that a documentary was released about his life growing up titled “Manchild”. The lefty forward ran into some issues during his college entrance exams and would never achieve the amazing college career that everyone expected of him. Instead of playing for UCLA as was originally planned, he wound up at Long Beach Community College and then Alabama. He declared for the NBA draft in 2000, but was never drafted. He really was “Lebron before Lebron” just without the amazing NBA career.
Demarr Johnson- Demarr Johnson (yes, the guy playing in the Big 3 league now) was so hyped and so talented in high school, that he and his family considered going to court against the NBA so he could be eligible to turn pro after his JUNIOR year in high school. Which, had they been successful, Demarr would have been the first person in history to achieve such a feat. The 6’9 swingman won every possible award a high school player could win, and every scout and college coach assumed Demarr was going to jump right to the NBA. He was called “Magic Johnson with a jump shot” at 18 years old. He shocked everyone by going to Univeristy of Cincinatti instead for year and then becoming a top 5 pick in 2000. A nearly fatal car crash in 2002 changed his career forever and since then he has spent time bouncing around the minor leagues, short stints with NBA teams and bouncing around almost every continent playing basketball abroad.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar- If there is anyone in basketball history who could compete with Lebron’s hype and career as an amateur, its Kareem. Kareem won three straight NYC catholic championships with an overall record of 79-2, which included a 71 game win streak. Then the captain played at UCLA where the Bruins went 88 and 2. Kareem’s 5 year span (minus his freshman year on UCLA’s freshman team), Kareem’s teams went 164 and 4! There aren’t too many players who ever touched a basketball, achieve a record like that. Even today in 2017, many consider Kareem and Lebron neck and neck in the all time rankings. If things continue on, Lebron will have a legitimate shot at Kareem’s all time scoring record.
Wilt Chamberlain- The recruitment of Wilt Chamberlain was similar to the recruitment top high school players today receive. The only difference is that Chamberlain was getting this type of treatment in the 1950s. Big difference. Today, every top 50 player receive treatment like that, back in the day Wilt was the only one. The Big Dipper was recruited by all major universities at a time when players didn’t travel too far from home to attend school. Wilt’s hype was so big in high school that Red Auerbach tried convincing the then teenager to attend college in New England years before he was actually eligible. Wilt was Lebron before Lebron 40 years before there was a Lebron.
Ralph Sampson- Ralph Sampson gets our nod as 6th man of the list. Ralph Sampson was the most famous and highly recruited player at a time when Magic, Bird, Jordan and Isiah were all high school players. The 7-3 center was being compared to Wilt and Kareem as a 17 year old. Some even felt that Sampson was more athletic than Kareem (definitely not more athletic than Wilt though) and even had more long term potential than Kareem. Sampson had his pick of becoming a pro player at 18 or becoming a college freshman at a Top 25 school, which he picked playing at UVA instead of the NBA. Sampson was a college all-star, a two-time NBA all star and had the potential to go down as one of the greatest of all time if injuries hadn’t derailed his pro career.
Is there anyone else who had similar hype that we missed?