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Friday, January 31
Updated: July 22, 5:44 PM ET
James ruled ineligible, plans to appeal decision news services

CLEVELAND -- LeBron James' season ended with the swiftness of one of his ferocious dunks.

The nation's top high school player -- and projected NBA star -- was ruled ineligible as an amateur because he accepted free sports jerseys, ending the celebrated senior's high school career.

The decision Friday by the Ohio High School Athletic Association comes four days after James, a senior at St. Vincent-St. Mary, was cleared for accepting a $50,000 sport utility vehicle as a gift from his mother.

McDonald's game still on?
Morgan Wootten, the chairman of the McDonald's High School All-American game, told ESPN's Jay Bilas that any player who competes in the all-star game March 26 must be high school eligible. Thus, LeBron James would be unable to play in the game in Cleveland unless he wins an expected appeal to the Ohio High School Athletic Association to regain his eligibility.

Wootten makes the final call on the rosters, which are announced Feb. 27, and he said there has been precedent for a top-flight player to be left off the roster because of high school ineligibility. Penny Hardaway was left off the roster in 1991 after he was ruled academically ineligible in high school.

The McDonald's game is televised by ESPN.

Kevin Foley, the spokesman for the game, had a different read on the eligibility rules for the game. He said there are no written rules that prevent a high school ineligible player from participating. But both Foley and Wootten agree that Wootten, the longtime chairman and legendary former DeMatha High coach, has the final call on who makes the roster.

Also two years ago, Tyson Chandler, who would not have been NCAA ineligible, played in the McDonald's game.

While James' appearance in the McDonald's game remains in doubt, adidas' director of basketball operations Sonny Vaccaro said James would play in the Roundball Classic on March 31 at the United Center in Chicago. High school players who are going on to college are limited to two postseason high school all-star games, but since James is expected to declare for the NBA draft he could play in as many as he wants after the season.

A source close to James told that James would appeal the decision, though it is not clear yet upon what basis the appeal will be made. The OHSAA says that if a written appeal is made, it would be heard before a state panel on Feb. 13.

Last Saturday, James was given two retro sports jerseys from a clothing store. The jerseys, honoring former Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers and former Washington Bullets center Wes Unseld, cost a combined $845.

Muscaro's ruling means St. Vincent-St. Mary must forfeit Sunday's win over Buchtel, dropping its record to 13-1. The Fighting Irish, ranked No. 1 by USA Today, have six regular-season games left before the state playoffs begin.

James can appeal the decision in writing. Fred Nance, an attorney for James and his family, did not return messages seeking comment.

"We're going to abide by the ruling,'' said coach Dru Joyce, who said he could not comment on a possible appeal. "We think that maybe there are some facts, that I don't know what they are, that could change things. But the bottom line is, that we're moving on as a team.''

As Joyce spoke to reporters outside the school's gym, passengers in a cars driving by shouted, "Leave LeBron alone!'' and "It's all your fault!''

James' now-famous Hummer was moved after the news briefing, and it was unclear whether the 18-year old star was picked up or still in the building.

James and his mother were extremely hurt and depressed over the ruling, a source close to James' family told's Andy Katz.

According to the source, who spoke with LeBron and mother Gloria James, the James' feel as if they have been set up and that someone purposely wanted him to be ruled ineligible. The James' plan to meet with lawyers Friday night to ensure that they go about the appeals process correctly.

The source also said James has made an offer to either return the two shirts or pay for them, and that James is waiting to hear from the store -- "Next Urban Gear and Music'' -- as to which they want from James.

James cannot play until the matter is resolved. His high school team has six remaining games listed on its schedule, with the regular season ending Feb. 23. Since an appeal would not be heard before Feb. 13, James will miss at least three games regardless of any appeal decision.

The 6-foot-8 James is considered the best high school player in the country and is expected to be the top player selected in June's NBA draft.

Ohio High School Athletic Association bylaws state that an athlete forfeits his or her amateur status by "capitalizing on athletic fame by receiving money or gifts of monetary value."

More specifically, the OHSAA 2002-03 Athletic Eligibility Information Bulletin states in part that, "You may receive an award or merchandise as a result of your participation in school or non-school competition from any source, provided the value does not exceed $100 per award."

As for what lies ahead beyond high school, nothing really has changed for James. Under NBA rules, he cannot become a free agent and start his pro career early. In order to become a free agent, an athlete must have been eligible for one NBA draft. James has not been eligible for an NBA draft and does not become eligible for the upcoming June 26 draft until his high school senior class graduates in early June.

James has no plans to play in Europe or anywhere else prior to the NBA draft, a source told

While James was not planning on playing college basketball, an NCAA official said Friday that James was not eligible even before the jersey infraction.

Citing extra benefits the NCAA says James received regarding lodging and transportation at Nike's summer camp as well as other infractions, an NCAA official said, "LeBron James would not have been certified at any institution in the NCAA. He would have been initially ineligible."

OHSAA spokesman Bob Goldring said that because James no longer is an amateur, he is free to sign any shoe deal he chooses.

A source told's Andy Katz that neither Nike nor adidas will attempt to sign James during his appeals process.

"LeBron James could have signed a multi million contract with Nike or adidas last June. He gave up all that money to play high school basketball this year," said Sonny Vaccaro, director of basketball for adidas.

Vaccaro said adidas gave Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary over $15,000 in merchandise and travel cost this year. Adidas will not make a similar donation next season.

Sources told Katz that promoters of his games this season have made an estimated $50,000 per game.

Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary's will play Feb. 8 in the PrimeTime Shootout in Trenton, N.J., and St. Vincent-St. Mary's will be guaranteed an appearance fee whether or not James plays.

James refused to comment about the jerseys Thursday night at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards; he was honored as the area's top high school athlete for the second straight year. He did allude to "all the controversy that's going on with me'' during his acceptance speech.

"I'd like to thank my teammates for helping me through all this,'' he said. "It will be in the paper, but remember, I'm on the honor roll with a 3.5 grade-point average.''

Earlier this month, James drew attention in Akron by driving around a new custom-made Hummer H2, which he received as a present for his 18th birthday. His mother, Gloria James, provided loan information to prove she had purchased the vehicle.

On Monday, OHSAA commissioner Clair Muscaro ruled that James would not lose his eligibility for accepting the vehicle.

Muscaro said he asked school administrators at St. Vincent-St. Mary on Friday for a chance to speak with James.

"But LeBron did not want to speak with me,'' Muscaro said, adding that James is the first athlete he has declared ineligible in his 14 years as commissioner.

"I think this sends a message that we are all about fairness,'' Muscaro said. "LeBron is being treated like any one of the thousands of student-athletes in Ohio.''

Muscaro said his ruling addressed only the issue of James receiving the two jerseys.

"Naturally, LeBron is talented and he's noted nationally and internationally, but as far as this association is concerned, we will treat him the same as all our other athletes.''

Muscaro reviewed a report that James received the jerseys in exchange for posing for pictures to be hung on the store's walls.

"In talking with the store's personnel, I was able to confirm that on Jan. 25, the merchant gave clothing directly to LeBron at no cost,'' Muscaro said. "This is a direct violation of the OHSAA bylaws on amateurism, because, in fact, LeBron did capitalize on athletic fame by receiving these gifts.''

The Sayers jersey costs $395; the Unseld jersey, $450.

Store manager Derrick Craig said the store's owner gave the jerseys to James for free.

"We get celebrities in here all the time," said Craig, who would not identify the owner. "They spend a lot of money and sometimes you just got to give them some love."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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