In the world of sports journalism, it is often said that nothing is unprecedented.
That was before LeBron James.
The Cleveland Cavaliers rookie has his own billboards, his own commercials, his own line of clothing and more than $100 million in endorsements.
He graces the covers of magazines coast to coast, and the front of the T-shirt on your own child's chest.
He's attractive to the working class, the hip-hop class and the corporate class.
He's fresh-faced. He's clean-cut (he eats Fruity Pebbles and chews Bubblicious), and his game has so much potential that Suns general manager Bryan Colangelo came back from watching him over the summer and announced he had just seen the next great NBA player.
And that was two years ago!
So what, you say? Many pro athletes enjoy fame and fortune. Ah, but not this much — not at the age of 18.
NBA commissioner David Stern was asked Tuesday if he' has ever seen the media and Madison Avenue focus so much attention on a young player.
"Not Larry, not Magic, not Michael. The media outlets have multiplied," Stern said, pointing out that in 1979 when Bird and Johnson entered the league, there were only three major TV networks, and ESPN was carried in about 10 million homes.
“He certainly is a nice young man who carries himself wonderfully," Stern added. "I'd like to see him develop into a great player without outlandish expectations."
Too late for that.
While James is still three years away from being able to order the King of Beers, the Cavs' high-school-to-pro phenom has already been anointed as King James, the hope of a beleaguered city and a beleaguered league.
Not blessed with the television ratings or the core fans that the NFL and Major League Baseball enjoy, NBA attendance has lagged since Michael Jordan first exited and several generations of wannabes failed to live up to Jordan's standards of play, marketability and inspiration.
“I can handle it," James has told many publications, when asked about his savior role.
But behind the hype lies the reality that no high school player has come into the NBA and dominated immediately. Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady all struggled early on. Others failed miserably.
And none of those players was asked to carry the banner for his organization, his city and his league.
“He has no idea what he's in store for," said Suns guard Stephon Marbury, who left Georgia Tech after only one season and suffered mightily in the public relations department while trying to elevate the woeful Minnesota Timberwolves and New Jersey Nets. “As far as the game goes, it's like being in kindergarten and going to the 12th grade," Marbury said. “He's not like the conventional player coming out. He's totally different because he has great skills, but you still have to go up so much and everybody's going to be watching him to see if he slips."
Not just on the court, Marbury added.
“It's going to be a big adjustment going from making no money to making $150-$200 million," Marbury said. “I think he has good people around him, so I think he'll be OK, but he'll need those people because everyone wants a part of you and some of those people aren't looking out for you. They're looking out for themselves."
One player who has made the high school-to-pro transition look relatively easy is Suns forward Amare Stoudemire, last year's Rookie of the Year.
“I don't think it's ever going to be easy for a guy coming out of high school, but you have to at least prepare yourself for what to expect," Stoudemire said. “I knew I was ready. I was focused and I felt I knew what was going to take place."
Stoudemire also benefitted from the wisdom and play of veterans such as Marbury, Shawn Marion, Penny Hardaway and Scott Williams. James' current role model on the Cavs is 22-year-old teammate Darius Miles, who has struggled with his own fundamentals and maturity in the NBA.
James' family, like Stoudemire's, has an unstable past. His mother, Gloria, moved him seven times while he was in the fourth grade and the man he refers to as his father was sentenced to three years in prison for mail and mortgage fraud last winter.
Cleveland coach Paul Silas is convinced James will handle himself properly.
"(LeBron) is smart and athletic and he'll find his way," Silas said. "He has that special something that the great ones have. He's a humble kid, but he has that confidence about him and that swagger. He knows he's special and he's out to prove it."
James will have to improve his perimeter shooting, which was a problem in the preseason. He'll also have to learn to be a point guard if that is where the Cavs ultimately decide to play the 6-foot-8, 240-pounder, who looks most like a swingman.
But even in his darkest hours, when things aren't going according to script, James can point to the eventual, on-court successes of Garnett, Bryant, McGrady and Stoudemire and know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Whether James reaches it with his dignity, character and confidence still intact is anyone's guess.