One reason why LeBron James can do things on the basketball court that were previously possible only in NBA 2K with the difficulty level set on “Rookie”—or in that book you wrote in elementary school about how you were going to score 40 points a game when you grew up—is his size.
At 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, James’s size and strength allow him to play any position on the court, switch onto any defender and even play with his back to the basket in the post. When James is on a fast break, his size makes it impossible to keep him from the basket, even when a defender wraps him in a bear hug and doesn’t let go. James will still finish with an and-one, then flex his biceps to the crowd. All you can do is watch.
But what if James were not 6-foot-8? What if he was 5 inches shorter? Would his game have developed in the same way? Would his superior basketball skills have allowed him to become one of the best players in the world? It’s a fun hypothetical—especially because a doctor once told young LeBron he would only grow to be 6-foot-3.
When James was 11, he was told during a routine medical check-up that he wouldn’t eclipse 6-foot-3, and this prediction devastated a kid who was already dreaming of playing in the NBA.
“When your idols are Michael Jordan and Penny Hardaway, you’re like [expletive],” James told cleveland.com. “You’re looking on the back of basketball cards, and it says M.J. 6-6, Penny Hardaway 6-7½, Grant Hill 6-8, you’re like, ‘I’m only going to be 6-3? Golly. My dreams are shattered.’ That’s how it made me feel.”
At that point in his development, James was already 5-foot-7 and about to experience a major growth spurt. By the time he was a freshman in high school, the 14-year-old LeBron had already hit his doctor’s height prediction.
“Once I was that tall at that age, I felt pretty good about my chances,” James said.
Fortunately, James kept growing until he reached a height that helped him become one of the most imposing physical specimens in the NBA. But it’s fun to think about what would have happened if that doctor’s prediction had come true.