LeBron James is three games into his senior year of high school and has already appeared on the covers of ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated. ESPN2 is showcasing the prep phenom before a national audience, and if you live in Ohio, you can watch James on pay-per-view.
Most Hyped Phenom ever? It's hard to top that kind of publicity. Here is the Page 2 list of players marketed as prime-time performers before even reaching the big stage. And be sure to check our corresponding list of Top 10 Phenom Flops.
1. LeBron James
Sure, it's easier these days to get nationwide attention with television, magazines, newspapers and the internet all trumpeting your impending arrival, but even recent prep stars like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady failed to come close to matching James' pre-NBA pub. James is a sure bet to jump straight from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron to the NBA, where he is expected to become the No. 1 pick in the draft.
|A young Tiger Woods won his first U.S. Amateur in 1994.|
2. Tiger Woods
Let's see ... he was on "The Mike Douglas Show" at age 2, reportedly shot a 48 over nine holes at age 3, appeared in Golf Digest at age 4, won the U.S. Junior Amateur at age 15 (and 16 and 17) and, at 18, became the youngest to win the U.S. Amateur. By the time he joined the PGA Tour in 1996, he was still just 20 years old and ready to take over. He did.
3. Lew Alcindor
No sport is as quick to proclaim its phenoms as basketball. Sometimes they even live up to the billing. Alcindor (he would later change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) became a household name while attending Power Memorial Academy in New York. He went to UCLA and increased the hype after averaging 31 points per game on the freshman team (freshmen were not eligible for the varsity). By the time his sophomore campaign rolled around in 1966, he was already on magazine covers, proclaimed as college hoops' next superstar.
4. Wayne Gretzky
Sportswriters were writing stories on Gretzky when he was 7 years old and by the time he was 10, when he was a 70-pound scoring machine for Brantford, Ontario., he was already a big name among hockey fans in Canada. He joined a junior-league team at 14, racked up ungodly point totals and turned pro at 17 with the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA (who quickly sold him to Edmonton). By the time the Oilers phenom joined the NHL, it was no wonder he won MVP his first year in the league.
|Minor-league phenom Gregg Jefferies hit .289 in his big-league career.|
5. Gregg Jefferies
Baseball teams and writers love to hype minor-league prospects and nobody hypes better or bigger than New York teams and New York writers. Jefferies was the Mets' first-round pick in 1985, a three-time minor-league MVP and two-time Baseball America minor-league player of the year after hitting .354 and .367. He hit .321 in a late-season callup in 1988 to create even more hoopla.
6. Ralph Sampson
The Sports Illustrated cover his freshman season at Virginia said it all: "LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, INTRODUCING THE ONE AND ONLY RALPH SAMPSON! HE DUNKS! HE BLOCKS SHOTS! HE DRIBBLES BEHIND HIS BACK! HE'S 7'4" -- AND STILL GROWING!"
7. Mike Tyson
He was heralded as the future heavyweight champ while still a teenager and didn't disappointment, winning the title at age 20.
8. Jim Ryun
Back when people paid attention to track and field, Ryun became the first high schooler to run a four-minute mile (a record that was recently broken by Virginia high schooler, Alan Webb). He immediately became a popular magazine cover boy and made the 1964 Olympic team while still in high school. He would go on to set world records in the mile and earn an Olympic silver medal.
9. Kenny Anderson
Hailing from Queens, Anderson was the quintessential New York City schoolboy point guard legend. He migrated south to Georgia Tech and immediately made the ACC his playground. His career peaked when he led the Yellow Jackets to the Final Four as a freshman. After two spectacular seasons, he became the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, but his career has been spotty.
10. Clint Hurdle
Hurdle never escaped the label Sports Illustrated put on him on a 1978 cover: "This year's phenom." He had hit .328 with 16 home runs in Triple-A at age 20 to earn the hype, but his career never took off.
Others receiving votes
Jennifer Capriati, Darryl Strawberry, Kevin Garnett, Jerry Lucas, Kobe Bryant, Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Drew Henson, Andruw Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Ken Griffey Jr., Ronald Curry.
You can watch LeBron in action Thursday Dec. 12 on ESPN2 -- followed by NEXT -- at 9 p.m. ET.