Aaliyah’s death inspired a young LeBron James: ‘He decided he wasn’t going to live life scared’

Separate images of LeBron James in a green shirt  playing basketball and Aaliyah in a hooded black T-shirt
LeBron James, wearing his school basketball uniform in 2002, said he was inspired to continue playing football in high school after learning about the death of singer Aaliyah.
(John Heller / Associated Press, left; Jim Cooper / Associated Press, right)
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Turns out that LeBron James’ high school athletics career was deeply influenced by the sudden, tragic death of singer Aaliyah.

Sportswriter Brian Windhorst, who has documented James’ sports career since the 19-time NBA All Star was in high school, discussed the connection between the two megastars in a Wednesday appearance on ESPN’s basketball-centric program“NBA Today.”

“[James] was going to quit football after his sophomore year [at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio], then Aaliyah, one of his favorite singers, died in a plane crash,” Windhorst told the show’s host, Malika Andrews. “He decided he wasn’t going to live life scared.”


Aaliyah died at age 22 on Aug. 25, 2001, in a plane crash in the Bahamas. The “Are You That Somebody” singer was returning from a video shoot in the Caribbean country at the time of the accident, which also killed eight others.

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James was initially going to walk away from football in his early high school years in order to preserve his body and energy for basketball, as he was already being heavily recruited by colleges and professional teams.

As a junior wide receiver, James hauled in 57 catches for 1,160 yards and scored 16 touchdowns for St. Vincent-St.Mary. He decided to not play the hard-hitting sport during his senior year so that he could focus on basketball.

The Akron-born NBA icon had previously mentioned how Aaliyah’s death inspired him in his famous “The Chosen One” Sports Illustrated interview.

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“For the last two years, in fact, [James] has risked career-threatening injury as an all-state wide receiver on the St. Vincent-St. Mary football team. At first [James’ mother] Gloria refused to let LeBron play last fall, but after the 22-year-old singer Aaliyah died in a plane crash last August, he persuaded her to let him play,” journalist Grant Wahl wrote in 2002.

“‘You’re not promised tomorrow,’ LeBron says. ‘I had to be out on the field with my team.’ Though LeBron did break the index finger of his left (non-shooting) hand, he helped lead the Irish to the state semifinals.”


The four-time NBA champion spoke about his impressive football stats and the fact that he was the top football prospect in Ohio in a 2020 Instagram post.

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“My homie @mister1223 just sent this to me from his son. His son said ‘I didn’t know Bron was #1 prospect in Ohio?? He said ‘Yeah Bron was nice in football too.’ His son response ‘THATS CRAZY!’ 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣. 60 reception, 1200 yards and 16 touchdowns my Junior year at WR. 😱,” James captioned a photo of a newspaper clip that highlighted his monumental statistics.”

“Didn’t even play my senior year (I wanted to so BADLY) because my boys ... wouldn’t let me,” he continued. “They said if I tried to step on a football field my senior year they would jump (kick my a—) me every day of practice until I had enough! Think I made a smart decision!”