© St. Petersburg Times, published February 9, 2003
A year ago, LeBron James was known only to basketball cognoscenti.
That was before he was placed on the cover of Sports Illustrated (Feb. 18, 2002), and before James, a 6-foot-8 senior from Akron, Ohio, showcased his transcendent talent this winter in two games televised by ESPN2.
Many have decried such publicity for a high school kid. However, numerous athletes -- many of them female -- have been media magnets at a much younger age. Jennifer Capriati was on the cover of Sports Illustrated when she was 13.
The major networks have devoted thousands of hours of programing to hyping and covering teenage gymnasts, figure skaters and tennis players. As long as the public craves sports news, the exploits of exceptional young athletes will be reported. Both of James' televised games drew big ratings.
James' eligibility quagmire and the circus about it is distressing, and he deserves some slack, for sure -- he is 18, after all. But not too much. He has been a local hero for years and knows the lay of the land.
He knew the $50k-plus Hummer H2 his mom bought him would bring excessive attention, and despite his statement to the contrary, he knows he wasn't given those two pricey throwback jerseys because of good grades.
Any more than his report card will help make him the first pick in the NBA draft.
No riots, raging bonfires or blocks of overturned autos. No lowlights played and replayed across the country on the national news.
Stand tall, Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers' Super Bowl triumph was celebrated with style and dignity.
From filling Raymond James Stadium and patiently waiting hours for the Bucs to arrive the day after the game to putting up with the faulty PA system at the end of the parade, Bucs fans, for the most part -- there were a few DUI arrests, damaged vehicles, etc. -- were a model for appropriate mass celebrating.
There is a long and ignoble list of cities that have been far less civilized, and there were ugly disturbances after recent collegiate national titles around the Ohio State and Maryland campuses. In Oakland after the Bucs routed the Raiders, at least 25 people were arrested as multiple vehicles were set on fire and the windows to several businesses were broken. Hundreds of police officers responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.
Such behavior often is due to socioeconomic factors completely unrelated to any championship game outcome as much as the excessive delirium of a few misguided fans. Regardless, Bucs supporters stayed above the fray.
The Bucs put on a championship display, and Bucs fans did the same. Well done.