He already plays ball like a pro, wears the pricey bling-bling, even drives the same car the pros do, down to the TVs and video-game hookups.

So doesn't it seem odd that LeBron James would appeal to the Ohio High School Athletic Association to declare him a regular high school student again?

Yet that's apparently what the St. Vincent-St. Mary senior from Akron intends to do Monday, employing the same kind of expensive legal help favored by so many of those same pros. And if things don't work out with the OHSAA, or if James and his handlers don't like the pace of justice, they might go to a different kind of court and seek a temporary restraining order.

The target of their ire is a ruling Friday by the OHSAA that brought James' prep career to a very unstorybook-like ending. The association ruled James violated amateur bylaws by accepting two "throwback" jerseys worth $845 from a clothing store. To many, it was a cheap shot, especially because James was already driving a Hummer that retailed for more than $50,000 and wearing diamond-encrusted necklaces that would make Zsa Zsa Gabor blush.

But while the OHSAA couldn't prove the car or the jewelry were the result of James "capitalizing on athletic fame by receiving money or gifts of monetary value," the jerseys were much easier to trace. Of course, that was before lawyers got involved and everybody had their stories straight. Now, OHSAA commissioner Clair Muscaro is about to learn what it means to play in transition, to shift from offense to defense in a heartbeat.

What Muscaro is being asked to defend is an outdated standard, an idea almost universally ridiculed by a society that considers "Where's mine?" a soul-searching question.

In James' case, the answer - the NBA - was already known by the end of his sophomore year. It was clear even then that he was good enough to be one of the first two or three players taken in the pro draft the moment he became eligible. But because the league set a minimum-age requirement in the collective bargaining agreement with its players' union, no player can be drafted until his high school class graduates.

A year ago, rumors circulated that James might challenge that rule, play AAU ball or take millions to play professionally in Italy. Instead, he came back for his senior year, discovered that nobody else was waiting to make money on LeBron James, and decided he wasn't willing to wait any longer, either.

It's stunning to see a kid who will be handed a $20 million shoe deal and a $13 million contract some four months from now portrayed as a victim, but that's exactly what happened Sunday.

Stripped of his eligibility, James arrived at sold-out Rhodes Arena at the University of Akron about an hour before tipoff to see his team play without him. He was flanked by campus police and - just like the pros - some of his own security personnel.

James watched his team survive its closest game this season, edging Canton McKinley 63-62, and saying he didn't play isn't the same thing as saying he wasn't busy. There were pictures with the opposing cheerleaders, a one-on-one interview with former NFL star-turned-TV-star Deion Sanders for a morning news show and basking in the adoration of a crowd that totaled 5,900.

The jersey fiasco had resulted in the forfeit of an earlier game that cost St. Vincent-St. Mary its unbeaten season, and if the OHSAA somehow makes its ruling stick, James' absence will probably rob the Fighting Irish of their shot at a state title. But any doubts about which side the gathering came down on was apparent on the signs and T-shirts:

Some read "We Love LeBron" and "Let LeBron Play Please." A budding lawyer was no doubt behind: "Hey Clair Be Fair."

One advantage in being young is a short memory. In the span of a few days, James has gone from hero to victim, from superstar to suspended, from playing like a pro to not playing at all. Before this is through, James' legal help will most likely turn the tables over again, perhaps as early as this weekend's game in New Jersey.

And when you see James run and jump and jam and do all those things that no other high school kid ever could, remember: If he walks like a pro, talks like a pro, dresses, drives and travels with an entourage like a pro, he probably is one.

No matter who his lawyers convince otherwise.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org


Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.