You know LeBron James.
He has starred in commercials with entertainers like the late Bernie Mac since he was 18. He has been competing in the most-watched basketball event of the year — the NBA Finals — for the past eight years.
He has yet to release an autobiography, but even with national coverage that began when James was a 16-year-old and an insatiable 24-7 news cycle, there’s always more to learn. To commemorate James’ 34th birthday on Dec. 30, here are some lesser-known facts you might have missed through the years:
“The Denver Nuggets connection”
Part of James’ summer vacation in 2016 following his Cleveland Cavaliers‘ epic Finals comeback against the Golden State Warriors involved relaxing on a yacht off the coast of Italy. That sounds like nothing out of the ordinary for the rich and famous — until you consider that the 290-foot yacht belonged to Denver Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke and joining James on vacation was Nuggets president and governor Josh Kroenke.
Fast-forward two years and the Nuggets leaned on that relationship to try to get Denver added to the short list of teams James was seriously considering in free agency — the Cavs, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets.
“[He] is a very dear friend of mine,” James said of Josh Kroenke. “He discussed it a couple times to me.”
Part of Kroenke’s pitch was sending a mockup of the updated Nuggets throwback uniforms featuring the Denver skyline in a rainbow motif with James’ name and number on it.
“[He] said you’d look good in one of these,” James said. “We have a great friendship. But I didn’t give it much thought.”
“Lance Stephenson shares a number”
Since James left the Miami Heat and switched back to No. 23, he has kept the No. 6 that adorned his jersey for two championships and two Olympic gold medals in his wardrobe by way of his practice uniform.
He picked up the idea from Deion Sanders’ football career.
“When he went to the pros, he wore 2 in practice but wore 21 on the playing field,” James said of Sanders. “It’s like that.”
So now, at the UCLA Health Training Center, you can often find No. 6 guarding No. 6 when James and Lance Stephenson scrimmage in Lakers practice sessions. James was tickled by the Los Angeles-based media that asked about his practice jersey during training camp, as if it were a new phenomenon.
“I’ve worn 6 in practice for a long time,” James said before making a sarcastic crack. “I’m starting to figure out a lot of you guys just not recognizing who I am, huh?”
“The headband returned … briefly”
Much like “Hoodie Melo” and “Untucked Kyrie,” the persona of “Headband Bron” has been ascribed to the Lakers’ star based on an item of clothing. James regularly wore a headband from his rookie season until March 2015, when, suddenly, he stopped.
“I did it because I just wanted to look like my teammates,” James said at the time. “Just wanted to be one. Nothing more than that.”
This season, he brought the headband out of retirement on Nov. 7 against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and he has broken it out for a couple of practices too. James actually would fit in well with the Lakers should he decide to rock it again on a permanent basis, as JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Michael Beasley and Kyle Kuzma have been wearing headbands in games.
Josh Hart even did a one-game headband cameo, like James.
“A book club of one, a traveling library”
James’ tradition for several postseasons has been to shut down his social media and occupy himself on off days by reading a good book.
A couple of years ago, it was “West by West,” Jerry West‘s life story. Last spring, it was “The Alchemist,” which happens to be a favorite of Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka.
James didn’t wait until the playoffs to crack a couple of spines in L.A. After Pelinka recommended “Leadership: In Turbulent Times,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, James turned the pages on the collection of stories from the presidencies of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, hoping to glean lessons from some of the great leaders of the past.
This season he also has read “Havana Nocturne,” T.J. English’s nonfiction account of the mob’s expansion to Cuba.
“I watch mob movies; I’m [a] huge mob movie [person], either fiction or nonfiction,” James said. “Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano. All those guys. It’s just who I am. ‘The Godfather’ is one of my favorites.”
At Pelinka’s behest, the Lakers have a traveling library curated by the GM that is available to players on the road, in case others want to take up James’ reading habits.
“Finals cramps turned business opportunity”
James trains year-round with the notion that if you never fall out of shape, it’s easier to stay in shape. That dedication made it especially disheartening when his body gave out in Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals between his Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, as a severe leg cramp limited James to five minutes in the fourth quarter as San Antonio ran away with the victory.
“We tried different supplements, always looking for that edge,” James’ longtime athletic trainer and friend Mike Mancias told ESPN.
“‘What can we do? What can we do?’ After the whole cramping incident in San Antonio, we started doing some work with a pharmaceutical company, coming up with different recipes, different ingredients — at the same time keeping it all safe, NSF certified, clean.”
James and Mancias relentlessly tinkered with the ratio. And in the 2017-18 season, James played all 82 games, plus heavy minutes in the playoffs, logging all 48 minutes in a Game 7 win at the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals.
“Finally, we found a good recipe that actually worked — not specifically just for cramping, just for overall supplementation,” Mancias said.
Now, they are taking that recipe to the masses, pairing up with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lindsey Vonn and Cindy Crawford to launch Ladder, a health and wellness company that sells the same grass-fed whey, plant proteins and energy powders that James uses.
“Candles are for the road”
Locker rooms have a reputation for being cramped and sweaty, but James has brought a bit of ambiance to the opposing arenas this season. On several occasions, he has lit a candle by his locker stall before the game.
There was the mahogany teakwood candle by White Barn that was used in Portland and a fancier Moso bamboo candle by Voluspa lit in San Antonio. The scented travel companion is perhaps aligned with James’ recent dedication to meditation — a practice for which he tries to devote 15 to 20 minutes a day, often during his team’s pregame window.
“You feel kind of weird about it at first because it’s something that’s new, something that’s outside the box for myself,” James said. “But I got more and more comfortable with my inner self, inner spirits and inner energy, and things of that nature, I guess. So it works for me.”
“Documenting every move”
Aside from the crush of coverage James has received in his inaugural campaign with the Lakers, nearly every step of the way — practices, shootarounds, games both at home and on the road — James has been followed by camera crews stemming from a joint business venture between SpringHill Productions and NBA Entertainment, sources told ESPN.
The purpose of the crews is unclear — a docuseries such as “More Than An Athlete” or perhaps a full-length documentary such as “More Than a Game”? But footage is being collected and the tapes are being banked.
“The iconic chalk toss is a relic”
Just like the headband, James’ signature chalk toss has disappeared from his game-night ritual. It was so routine that in his first game back with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, fans were given miniature bags of paper confetti to throw into the air, mimicking James as he performed his chalk toss just before tipoff.
James abandoned the custom a couple of months into the 2014-15 season, but you can still see him prepping his hands with talcum powder before tipoff to this day. He just finishes the action with a hand clap, followed by a quick blow on each of his balled fists to disperse the excess dust, rather than creating a chalk cloud.
“Maintaining a good relationship with the owner”
Since his youth, coaches have marveled at the maturity and confidence James showed in the level of eye contact he maintained during interaction. That trait carries over to games at Staples Center where, even with a crowd of 18,997 fans, James often will cut through the din to check in with Lakers owner Jeanie Buss — a simple wink when the game action takes him within range of her seats in the first row of Section 112.
Buss said the acknowledgement isn’t unique to her relationship with James, but rather a reflection of the type of bond she wants all her players to feel when they play for the Lakers.
“It’s like they all look over; I’m kind of like the den mother,” she told ESPN. “Even when players who used to play for the Lakers come, like Dwight Howard, he always says hi.”