How LeBron James became King of the Internet: A King's Reign podcast (2024)

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

The traditional media spotlight (The cover of Sports Illustrated as a 17-year-old. 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) arrived on the media scene.

But those social media sites and apps made sharing photos, videos and internet memes simple enough that anyone with a smartphone could do it.


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

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The banana boat

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

LeBron, D-Wade and CP3 enjoy the offseason together on a banana boat:

— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) July 7, 2015

Can’t believe this is my life

LeBron in a pool, captioned with “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 during adverse conditions. Like the NBA version of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” Still see it to this day. Good to be LeBron: four NBA titles, four MVPs, four Finals MVPs, NBA’s all-time leading scorer. Billionaire.

lebron james in pool smiling through it all can’t believe this my life

— reactions (@reactjpg) May 27, 2020

Mechanic LeBron

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

— kuz (@kylekuzma) April 11, 2021

LeBron James Vine kid

Apologies in advance. Get ready to be repeating this kid for a week. Terrance Jackson, then 6 years old, heard LeBron James said on TV and just kept saying it. So, his brother Darius thought it would be funny to hear him say it in different positions. This was made in 2014.

LeBron’s a liar

One of the hottest recent memes: Lying LeBron. Kind of started way, 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 dubious claim! But the meme has progressed, with LeBron claiming to hear of Migos before they became popular and LeBron saying he listens to classical music before every game being popular examples.

Now, anytime something unexpected happens, you’ll see some joker tweet this pic along with a lie LeBron could have told to predict the unexpected.

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

LeBron responded, “I always speak the truth.”

Which is a lie.

“I was listening to those guys my first year with the Heat in 2010. You can ask any one of my teammates back then, they had no idea who the Migos was… I was like ‘I’m telling you these guys are next.'”

LeBron paying homage to Takeoff 🙏🏾

(via @michaelcorvoNBA)

— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) November 7, 2022

LeBron reacts to J.R. Smith

In the 2018 NBA Finals, J.R. Smith cost the Cavs Game 1 with a late-game mistake where he dribbled out the clock at the end of regulation in an eventual overtime defeat. LeBron couldn’t believe it and gestured his frustration at J.R. A legendary meme was born.

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


Business LeBron (leaving press conf. in business attire with briefcase)

Business LeBron leaving a press conference angry after Game 1 of the 2018 Finals. Mark Schwarz, an ESPN reporter, asked about the above incident. With his shorts suit on, LeBron put on his sunglasses, picked up his briefcase and told Schwarz, “Be better tomorrow” as he walked out of the room. (GIF via Tenor)


The goofy faces James made videobombing his Heatles teammates while they were being interviewed post-game. Jumps in with a wide close-mouthed smile when his teammate Chris Bosh was being interviewed, and another infamous one at Dwyane Wade’s final game.

.@KingJames 😂

— ESPN (@espn) April 11, 2019

The Decision

“The Decision” was such a meme that even to this day, when somebody is making a life change, it’s not unusual to hear them say: “I’m taking my talents … to wherever.”

LeBron James made “The Decision” to take his talents to South Beach!

— (@Ballislife) July 8, 2023

One of the best parts of the night: all the VitaminWater bottles. So many VitaminWaters. People were also tracking flights back then.

How LeBron James became King of the Internet: A King's Reign podcast (1)

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

Reading the first page of every book

Always. All the time. Year after year after year.

Still waiting for LeBron to read past the first page 😂😂

— NBA Memes (@NBAMemes) August 11, 2022

Harlem Shake

This is the most unbelievable one. The Harlem Shake craze made its way into the Heat locker room. It starts with the team dressing and Chris “Birdman” Andersen vibing. LeBron is in the king costume. Wade is in the head of a bear mascot. Bosh 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 SMILES!

Stoneface LeBron shows up when somebody is going off, or when LeBron is having a big game. The look can be used even when somebody is doing something completely unrelated to sports, but they want to show they are focused.

Lance Stephenson blows in LeBron’s ear

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

LeBron’s headband

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

The best memes about LeBron’s headband!

— (@Ballislife) March 29, 2013


Is it a meme? Or simply one of the fiercest NBA pictures of all-time? LeBron, down 3-1 to the Warriors in the 2016 Finals, looking completely unbothered while wearing an Undertaker shirt. After he brought the Cavs back from the dead, this became a legendary screenshot.

On this day in 2016, LeBron gave us a classic meme as the Cavs were aiming to make a 3-1 comeback

The rest was history 💍

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 12, 2023

Flip phone at Raw

Some moments just scream “time capsule.” Take this one from 2003, when a 19-year-old rookie LeBron showed up ringside to WWE’s “Monday Night Raw.” He took a picture 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’re gonna be the GOAT, you gotta have a crying face meme. The origin of this is that LeBron was mid-sneeze.

How LeBron James became King of the Internet: A King's Reign podcast (2)

(Gary Dineen/ NBAE via Getty Images)

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

This is it. This is the photo that becomes the crying LeBron meme.

— Ross Bolen (@WRBolen) June 20, 2016

Taco Tuesday

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


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

But, who knows? Maybe in the future?

Looking at cameraman

LeBron always knows where the camera is. This from a 2019 NBA preseason game. LeBron trolls the broadcast, slowly turning his head to the baseline cam.

In the face!

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


Related reading

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

Related listening

How LeBron James became King of the Internet: A King's Reign podcast (2024)


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