LeBron James’ rise to fame – exclusive interview with former coach Keith Dambrot and lifelong friend Dru Joyce III | NBA News


Just 36 points are standing in the way of LeBron James and the NBA’s all-time points record, so we sat down with his high school head coach Keith Dambrot and lifelong friend Dru Joyce III, to chat all things basketball, including the 38-year-old’s steady rise to fame on the court.

Coach Dambrot starts things off by mentioning LeBron James as a household name at a local Jewish basketball camp – a camp introduced to him by childhood friend Dru Joyce III, aka Lil Dru.

“The guy picked up on things immediately. Three games into his freshman year I thought he had a chance at being a pro and I think by his sophomore year we all knew he wasn’t going to college,” said Dambrot.

When James followed Joyce and the rest of the ‘Fab Five’ to St Vincent-St Mary High School, Dambrot was entering his second season coaching the school.

Two seasons later, a school with relatively little basketball pedigree sat as back-to-back state champions with Dambrot set to join a Division One college programme.

“He resurrected my career,” said Dambrot. “He made me a college coach again. Typical of him, everything he touches turns to gold.”

“He knew how good he was, and he knew the attention would come with it.” said Joyce

Cameras crowd around James after he scored 31 points in a 65-45 win over Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy in 2002

Staying local for high school, James rejected an invitation to the All-American high school basketball camp – a place for the USA’s best prospects to gain national attention.

Why? Because none of his friends were invited. A level of loyalty to his co-stars that James is praised for two decades later.

Joyce went on to have a great pro career of his own. Playing most of his basketball in Europe, Joyce retired as the all-time assist leader in the Basketball Bundesliga. He is now part of Dambrot’s coaching staff for the Duquesne Dukes – a Division One college in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Playing basketball alongside James from a young age, Joyce sees flashes of the player he once called his team-mate.

“The things you see now I witnessed at 11-years-old, just on a smaller scale. He’s enhanced his tools and his fundamentals have sharpened – his game has become perfect.”

 LeBron James, Dru Joyce III, and Willie McGee, appear in their high school gym on Friday, Aug. 21, 2009 to promote the documentary film "More Than A Game"
LeBron James, Dru Joyce III and Willie McGee appear in their high school gym in 2009 to promote the documentary film ‘More Than A Game’

Through his 20 seasons in the NBA, we have seen adaptations and development within James’ game, allowing him to be a volume scorer his entire career.

When a 22-year-old LeBron reached the NBA Finals for the first time, the San Antonio Spurs dared him to use his jump shot. As a result, he shot 36 per cent from the field and the Cavaliers were swept.

Seven years later and now at the Heat, James hit a pull-up mid-range dagger over Kawhi Leonard to secure his second championship in two years, this one against the Spurs.

Shooting 40.6 per cent from three that season, James was a much bigger threat away from the paint, while also being at his peak athletically.

In a situation where a young Leonard had to pick his poison, he went under a screen and with James confident in his jumper, Leonard had to sit and watch his hopes of a first career title vanish.

However, despite being a great scorer, it has never been his thing.

“When he first came into the NBA, I thought he’d be more Magic Johnson, not Michael Jordan – that’s what me and Dru’s dad trained him to be,” said Dambrot.

When comparing James to other greats Dambrot added: “There’s a lot of great players, but there are very few players that can make others better.”

But where does this talent come from?

Describing LeBron’s basketball brain, Joyce and Dambrot likened it to the same thing – a sponge.

Dambrot said: “This is going to sound absurd but I’m saying it anyway. Everybody looks at LeBron and says he’s the freakiest athlete they’ve ever seen – but mentally, that’s where he’s a freak. I’ve never seen someone understand the game better than him.”

Cameras crowd around LeBron James after he scored 31 points in a 65-45 win over Virginia's Oak Hill Academy Thursday, Dec. 12, 2002
Cameras crowd around James after he scored 31 points in a 65-45 win over Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy in 2002

Preparing for his record-tying 19th All-Star appearance, LeBron has been on a monumental scoring streak since his 38th birthday.

What is special about this is that James will become the highest scorer in the NBA while still at the top of his game, something fitting for a man who personifies longevity.

To finish the interview, I asked Dambrot and Joyce what it will mean to them, seeing someone they call their friend become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

“His commitment to his people is second to none,” Dambrot said. “When he wins, we’re happy for him – it feels like a family member is playing.

“When he passes Karem, it’s going to mean a lot to me. I just want him to pass it and go win another title.”

“He’s family. I’m going to be proud,” said Joyce. “I want the best for him. It’s going to be awesome to witness it but like Coach said, I want him to win another championship after.”


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