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Friday, January 31, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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High School Sports

Basketball phenom LeBron James ruled ineligible for rest of season

By The Associated Press

CLEVELAND — High school basketball star LeBron James was ruled ineligible to play for the rest of the season because he accepted free clothes.

The decision today by the Ohio High School Athletic Association comes four days after James, a senior at St. Vincent-St. Mary, was cleared for accepting a $50,000 sport utility vehicle as a gift from his mother.

Last Saturday, James was given two retro sports jerseys from a clothing store. The jerseys, honoring former Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers and former Washington Bullets center Wes Unseld, cost a combined $845.

James’ school must forfeit Sunday’s game, the association said in a news release.

The 6-foot-8 James is considered the best high school player in the country and is expected to be the top player selected in June’s NBA draft.

St. Vincent-St. Mary has five games left in the season, in addition to state playoffs.

After reviewing a report about the jerseys, the association said James received them in exchange for posing for pictures to be hung on the store’s walls.

The association’s rules state that 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," OHSAA Commissioner Clair 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."

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 H2, which he received as a present for his 18th birthday. His mother, Gloria James, provided loan information to prove she had purchased the vehicle.

On Monday, Muscaro ruled that James would not lose his eligibility for accepting the vehicle.

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," Muscaro said, adding that James is the first athlete he has declared ineligible in his 14 years as commissioner.

"I think 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."

Muscaro said his ruling addressed only the issue of James receiving the two jerseys.

"Naturally, LeBron is talented and he’s noted nationally and internationally, but as far as this association is concerned, we will treat him the same as all our other athletes."

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