James declared ineligible


Published: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 1:35 a.m.
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Lebron James can appeal Friday''s ruling in writing, the Ohio commission said. If he does so, it would be heard before the state on Feb. 13.

The Associated Press
CLEVELAND - LeBron James was ruled ineligible to play for the rest of the season because he accepted free sports jerseys, bringing a sudden end to the basketball star's celebrated high school career.
The decision Friday by Ohio High School Athletic Association commissioner Clair Muscaro came four days after James, a senior at Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary, was cleared after receiving a $50,000 sports utility vehicle from his mother.
Last Saturday, James was given two retro jerseys - valued at a combined $845 - for free from a clothing store, the OHSAA said. The jerseys honored former Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers and former Washington Bullets center Wes Unseld.
Muscaro's ruling means St. Vincent-St. Mary must forfeit Sunday's victory. The Fighting Irish, who are 14-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today, have five regular-season games left before the state playoffs begin.
James can appeal the ruling in writing, the OHSAA said. If he does so, it would be heard before a state panel on Feb. 13.
"We're going to abide by the ruling," said James' 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 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.
Even if James doesn't play another high school game, the ruling has no bearing on his future as a professional. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound player is considered the best prep player in the country and is expected to be the No. 1 selection in June's NBA draft.
Although he hasn't officially declared himself eligible for the draft, Friday's ruling might prohibit him from playing in college because of NCAA rules.
"There could be possible eligibility ramifications with his participation in an NCAA school," said Bill Saum, a director in the NCAA's enforcement department. "The broad scope is, an athlete may not receive a benefit because of his athletic talent. We would have to see in our investigation if that's why he received these jerseys."
Muscaro reviewed a report that James received the jerseys at "Next Urban Gear and Music" in exchange for posing for pictures to be hung on the store's walls.
The association's rules say an athlete forfeits amateur status by "capitalizing on athletic fame by receiving money or gifts of monetary value."
"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."
Robert Rosenthal, the store's owner, declined comment.
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," said Muscaro, who added that in his 14 years as commissioner, he'd never invoked the rule to declare an athlete ineligible.
School officials did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment. Fred Nance, an attorney for James and his family, also did not return a message seeking comment.
James has received an unprecedented amount of attention for a high school player. As a junior, he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which dubbed him "The Chosen One." His team's games are followed nationally, and James' popularity forced school officials to move home games to the 5,900-seat Rhodes Arena at Akron University.
The school also scheduled games around the country so James and his teammates could face quality opponents in NBA-size arenas in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Greensboro, N.C. James attracted near-sellouts at those venues.
Nike and Adidas have been waging an off-court war for James, who was projected to earn up to $20 million for an endorsement deal.
Muscaro was concerned that the OHSAA would be accused of giving James preferential treatment if he didn't rule him ineligible.
"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."
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 by driving around a new custom-made Hummer, which he received as a present for his 18th birthday. His mother, Gloria James, provided loan information to prove she had purchased the vehicle.

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