James cleared in Hummer inquiry, involved in accident
January 27, 2003 at 3:13 PM EST - Updated June 16 at 2:00 AM
By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - LeBron James hasn't completely steered clear of trouble with his Hummer.
The nation's top high school basketball player was cleared Monday after a two-week investigation by state officials determined he did not violate amateur bylaws by accepting a Hummer H2 vehicle (pictured. right) as a gift.
Hours after James was cleared, an 88-year-old woman filed a police report claiming that he backed his sport utility vehicle into her car.
Iola Winston of Akron said the accident occurred while she was stopped in traffic Friday afternoon -- a few hours before James' final home game at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.
Winston said she gave James her phone number after he said he would have the damage repaired. She was not injured.
Her car later broke down and she had it towed. She waited until Monday night to file the accident report with Akron police.
James' attorney, Fred Nance, was not immediately available for comment.
Ohio High School Athletic Association commissioner Clair Muscaro ruled Monday morning that James did not compromise his amateur status by accepting the Hummer as a gift and that his mother, Gloria, had provided proof she bought him the vehicle.
"I was satisfied with the documentation that we were given," Muscaro said.
Muscaro had been gathering information and financial proof to determine how James, a senior and expected No. 1 pick in this year's NBA draft, had obtained the SUV, which has a base retail price of $50,000.
Gloria James said she took out a bank loan in Columbus to buy the Hummer -- shipped from a dealership in California and outfitted with three TVs and computer game hookups -- for her son's 18th birthday.
Muscaro's concern was that James had accepted the Hummer from an agent or outside source and had violated an OHSAA bylaw that says amateur status is forfeited if an athlete capitalizes on athletic fame by receiving money or gifts of monetary value.
Muscaro was shown the business records from the bank and dealership and was satisfied that the financing and acquisition of the vehicle were acquired by James' mother alone.
"I'm not in position to question bank officials," Muscaro said. "I am satisfied that the loan that was granted did not violate our guidelines and was acquired only by his mother."
Muscaro said no violations of the OHSAA amateur bylaws "as currently written" were found and that James is still eligible to play. However, Muscaro thinks the OHSAA should re-examine some of its amateur bylaws.
"It's something that needs to be looked at," he said, "to make sure they are in step with current times."
Any bylaw revisions would be subject to a recommendation and vote by the OHSAA's 800-plus member schools, Muscaro said.
If the OHSAA had ruled James ineligible, St. Vincent-St. Mary, ranked No. 1 by USA Today, would have had to forfeit its games from the time he accepted the SUV.
With the investigation over, James can now concentrate on the remainder of his final season with the Fighting Irish (14-0).
James has received unprecedented coverage in the past year, appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a junior and having some of his games televised on ESPN this season. Nike and Adidas are both jockeying to sign him to a multimillion dollar endorsement deal.
James' exposure has led to a backlash from some who think his school, as well as the OHSAA, are exploiting the 18-year-old superstar for profit.
Muscaro has received e-mails and letters criticizing the decision on James. Critics say the OHSAA was afraid to rule against James because of the money it would lose without him in the state tournament.
"Money, race or gender had nothing to do with the decision," he said. "Money is not a factor. Our boys basketball tournament would do well with or without St. Vincent-St. Mary."
James' coach Dru Joyce said the Hummer investigation had been a distraction.
"We're glad it's finally official," Joyce said. "We believed fully that LeBron and his family did nothing wrong. We're not holding any grudges against the OHSAA; it's just time to move on."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)