How LeBron James Became King of the Internet: A King’s Reign Podcast

How did LeBron James become “King of the Internet”?

The traditional media spotlight (Cover of Sports Illustrated at 17. High school games on ESPN. Drafted No. 1 overall in 2003.) made LeBron James a sensation long before YouTube (founded in 2005), Twitter (launched in 2006) and Instagram (debuted in 2010).

But these social media sites and apps made sharing photos, videos, and Internet memes so simple that anyone with a smartphone could do it.

In the age of social media, few, if any, athletes have been as meme-savvy as LeBron James, whose NBA career came of age as social media began to gain mainstream traction. From sharing a banana boat with friends to a determined stare during Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals to wondering what the heck JR Smith was doing, James, the most popular and influential NBA player of the past two decades, has provided endless meme fodder for the masses.

Find the series at Athletics app or wherever you listen to podcasts.

The banana boat

Summer 2015. LeBron went on vacation. Left to right: Gabrielle Union, Wade, CP3, LeBron. Mandela effect: Melo was there. Will live forever as a Snapchat filter.

Can’t believe this is my life

LeBron in a pool with the caption “Smiling through it all! Can’t believe this my life.” Screenshot from an Instagram story during the Shut Up and Dribble days. LeBron, smiling through it all, has become shorthand for thriving in adversity. Like the NBA version of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”. Still watching it to this day. Good to be LeBron: four NBA titles, four MVPs, four Finals MVPs, NBA leading scorer. Billionaire.

Mechanic LeBron

A photoshopped image of LeBron sporting a mustache with a cigarette dangling from his mouth and one behind his ear. This quickly turned into “It Don’t Matter, LeBron,” where people would list potential opponents. For example: “Golden State, golden retrievers, Golden Girls … It doesn’t matter, Cavs in four.”

LeBron James Vine child

Sorry in advance. Get ready to repeat this baby for a week. Terrance Jackson, then 6 years old, heard LeBron James say it on TV and just kept saying it. So his brother Darius thought it would be fun to hear him say it in different positions. This was done in 2014.

LeBron is a liar

One of the hottest new memes: Lying LeBron. It kind of started way back when LeBron said he told his teammates that Kobe would score at least 70 on the day Kobe ended up going for 81. A questionable claim! But the meme has moved on, with LeBron claiming to have heard of Migos before they became popular, and LeBron saying he listens to classical music before every game being popular examples.

Now, whenever something unexpected happens, you’ll see a joker tweet this picture along with a lie LeBron might have told to predict the unexpected.

It went so far that LA Rams CB Jalen Ramsey asked LeBron about the Lying Meme in an episode of “The Shop”.

LeBron responded, “I always tell the truth.”

Which is a lie.

LeBron reacts to JR Smith

In the 2018 NBA Finals, JR Smith cost the Cavs Game 1 with a late game foul where he dribbled out the clock at the end of regulation in an eventual overtime loss. LeBron couldn’t believe it and took his frustration out on JR. A legendary meme was born.

LeBron revealed after the series that he suffered a self-inflicted hand injury when he hit a backboard after the game.


Business LeBron (leaves press conference in business suit with briefcase)

Business LeBron leaves a news conference angry after Game 1 of the 2018 Finals. Mark Schwarz, an ESPN reporter, asked about the above incident. Wearing his short suit, LeBron put on his sunglasses, grabbed his briefcase and told Schwarz, “Be better tomorrow” when he left the room. (GIF via Tenor)

Video bombs

The goofy faces James made videobombing his Heatles teammates while being interviewed after the game. Jumping in with a wide tight-mouthed smile when his teammate Chris Bosh was interviewed, and another infamous one at Dwyane Wade’s last game.

The decision

The “decision” was such a meme that even today, when someone makes a life change, it’s not unusual to hear them say, “I’ll take my talents … anywhere.”

One of the best parts of the night: all the VitaminWater bottles. So many vitamin waters. People also tracked planes back then.

LeBron knows “The Decision.” (Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Estabrook Group)

To read the first page of every book

Always. Continually. Year after year after year.

Harlem Shake

This is the most incredible. The Harlem Shake craze found its way into the Heat locker room. It starts with the team getting dressed and Chris “Birdman” Andersen vibrating. LeBron is in the king costume. Wade is in the head of a bear mascot. Bosch is a car salesman. Ray Allen is in the Phantom of the Opera mask.

Game 6 LeBron face

One of the most iconic LeBron memes comes from one of the most iconic LeBron games: Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals vs. Boston. In a must-win game with his team trailing, 3-2, in the series, James put up 45 points, 15, five assists and ZERO SMILE!

Stoneface LeBron appears when someone is leaving or when LeBron plays a big game. The look can be used even when someone is doing something unrelated to sports, but they want to show that they are focused.

Lance Stephenson blows in LeBron’s ear

“I wasn’t prepared,” Stephenson told HoopsHype in December 2021. “It was all in the flow of the game. Being out there and competing. Everybody in the league is competitive and wants one thing; to win the game. Sometimes you do what it takes to win the game.”

LeBron’s headband

OK, let’s get to the hairline. Specifically, we will examine how LeBron used his headband to cover where his hairline started. It seemed to get bigger and bigger and bigger – and further and further back.


Is it a meme? Or just one of the most violent NBA photos ever? LeBron, down 3-1 to the Warriors in the 2016 Finals, looked completely unfazed while wearing an Undertaker jersey. After he brought the Cavs back from the dead, this became a legendary screen shot.

Return phone at Raw

Some moments just scream “time capsule.” Take this one from 2003, when a 19-year-old rookie LeBron showed up at the top of WWE’s “Monday Night Raw.” He took a photo of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin on his flip phone. After the show, LeBron went backstage and met some of the superstars, including Stacy Kiebler and Goldberg.

LeBron’s crying face

If you want to be the GOAT, you must have a crying face meme. The origin of this is that LeBron was in the middle of sneezing.

(Gary Dineen/ NBAE via Getty Images)

Another instance of him crying – after he won the championship – later went around.

Taco Tuesday

Taco Tuesday is a staple for many families, including James’ own, who always know what day it is. LeBron’s video became so big that LeBron even tried to trademark the term, but the patent office said the phrase was “a common expression … used by a variety of sources that … conveys a … well-known concept.”

The office even cited several news articles showing that “Taco Tuesday” is widely used “to express enthusiasm for tacos by promoting and celebrating them on a dedicated weekday.”

But who knows? Maybe in the future?

Looking at the cameraman

LeBron always knows where the camera is. This from a 2019 NBA preseason game. LeBron trolls the broadcast and slowly turns his head toward the baseline camera.

In the face!

No list would be complete without someone getting punched in the face. So here’s LeBron getting punched in the face way back in 2016. It happens to the best of us.


Related reading

Vardon: Introducing ‘A King’s Reign’, a podcast focusing on the remarkable career of LeBron James
“The Redeem Team” Q&A: LeBron’s ‘unicorn’ entertainment career

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