To Ohio Kids, LeBron James’ Hummer H2 Was Uniquely Inspiring
The H2 was the physical representation of success.
Before General Motors (GM) flipped it into GMC’s electric halo car in 2020, the Hummer brand was the poster child of excess, environmental destruction, and pedestrian danger. The 2003-2009 Hummer H2 was the complete antonym to the Toyota Prius, both soldiers at the time in a budding culture war linked to the Bush administration. That battle seems super silly now, as hybrids, big trucks, and big hybrid trucks are basically the only choices for the modern new car buyer. But, in 2003, the Hummer H2 was public enemy number one. That is, unless you were a young black kid in Akron, Ohio. For me, the H2 has always been an aspirational car, largely due to LeBron James.
When I see the H2, I don’t think about some weirdo culture clash of the early 2000s. I was 10 years old, so the war for oil and GM’s apprehension of fuel-saving cars weren’t on my radar. To little kids like me, the H2 was a larger-than-life Tonka truck, a decidedly Playskool-like caricature of what a big truck could be. It was that truck we saw on TV, but surely nobody near us had the money to buy such an expensive brand-new truck. In retrospect, it wasn’t that expensive (about $50,000 new), but in a neighborhood where everyone drove rusty GM A-bodies, it might as well have been a million-dollar jumbo jet fit for a pro athlete. And it was.
For those unfamiliar with the sports world, LeBron, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, quickly rose to fame in the early 2000s. His basketball skills were so good in high school that he eschewed the college sports pipeline. Instead, he followed in the footsteps of players like Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant and declared for the 2003 NBA Draft, where he was selected No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Before he was drafted, LeBron’s fame hit Ohio like a tsunami, as local and national news speculated what the then-teenager would do. It quickly became obvious that he’d skip the college route and jump straight into pro basketball. If you were cognizant of sports media, you’d likely remember that more than a few vocal voices weren’t okay with that. You know, there’s always that patronizing, moralizing air that black boys should never follow their talents and should go to college, because living in the inner city renders us stupid as hell, and a college education is the only ticket out of our low-quality public school education. Never mind that LeBron James went to a private Catholic school.
The locals like me, though, we wanted him to excel.
In 2003, while LeBron James was still a high schooler at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, he showed up with a decked-out brand-new Hummer H2. To modern eyes, it was tacky and gaudy. With large Dub rims and a tricked-out interior with too many TV screens, it was just this side of an Xzibit “Pimp My Ride” vehicle. The car was cool, like a real-life player car from Midnight Club 3, Dub Edition.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) didn’t share the community’s awe for the truck. LeBron was 17, still a high schooler, and there were concerns that he was gifted the Hummer from a coach as a method of recruiting, which would break the state’s rule on gifts more than $100. Controversy ensued, but it was later revealed that his mother bought him the car with a loan.
In the community’s eyes, those controversies only served to further valorize him. It was like the world was plotting against him. We could see his shine, but to us, these were just unnecessary roadblocks in the way of his success. There’s a very slim chance that you, the reader, are from Akron. There’s an even slimmer chance that you were in your formative childhood years, watching in real-time as a quiet teenager transformed from local basketball prodigy to A-list celebrity.
When I was 10 or 11, LeBron was in my neighborhood visiting family. Within seconds of his arrival, dozens of kids sprinted by foot or zoomed on bikes down my street, notebooks in hand, hoping to get an autograph from the budding basketball star. I hope those kids still have any keepsakes they got that day, because it is a drastic understatement to say that LeBron made it. Today, he’s an iconic international superstar and universally respected athlete who continually comes through for his hometown of Akron, Ohio.
To me, the Hummer H2 was aspirational. It was LeBron’s car, a symbol that he had done something with his life and that he had made it. It was a talisman of someone who had beat the system designed to keep us poor, someone who finally had the money and desire to bring his family out of poverty and choose what he wanted to drive. It was that car you saw in rap videos like 50 Cent’s “In Da Club.” The H2 was cool, and it was something that rich celebrities drove. And here we were, little old Akron, with our very own rich celebrity.
Today, it’s fitting that LeBron now endorses the same brand that kind of helped catapult him to fame. Yet, the new Hummer electric truck doesn’t have the same cachet that the old H2 did for 10-year-old black kids who watched a kid from Akron turn into a superstar.