There’s always been a fascination with NBA players and what they looked like as kids. Given that the average height of an NBA player is far greater than the average sport, you always wonder when they really hit their growth spurts. Were they always taller than average as children or did they jump a foot in freshman year? Were they always seemingly destined to be athletes or were they late bloomers?
What was the King LeBron James like as a kid? When did it first become clear to everyone that this kid was something special? When little Kobe Bryant was growing up in Italy, did anyone foresee him dominating the game the way he would? These are all things that go through people’s minds, which is why we’ve decided to share 20 NBA childhood photos with you today. You can take a look at all of them and see if you would have guessed that player based on their photo. Some may be obvious to you as their charming smile or a signature look is still in its early stages.
In any event, take the time to go through these 20 pictures and try to think of how these players once had the whole world in front of them and how they are now global icons today.
20. Taj Gibson
This picture is of Taj Gibson, the newest member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Gibson signed in Minnesota in July after a brief tenure with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Before that, he spent nearly ten years with the Chicago Bulls.
He is pictured here in a sharp-looking collared shirt-and-vest combo, smiling confidently at the camera. It might seem like the patterned shirt wouldn’t match with the solid-color vest. Yet, the two contrast perfectly, and Gibson’s expression suggests he knew it.
Gibson grew up in Brooklyn, NY before moving to California to finish high school. He then enrolled at USC, where he won the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. The Bulls selected Gibson with the 26th overall pick in the first round of the 2009 draft.
19. Nate Robinson
Nate Robinson employed an energetic style of play that transcended his 5’9”, 180-pound frame. That energy, coupled with an infectiously boisterous personality, made him a fan favorite in the NBA. It’s clear from this photo that Robinson developed that playful personality early on in his youth. He happily flexes for the camera, signaling a confidence that would stick with him as a college and pro player.
Robinson was twice named to the All Pac-10 first team in 2004 and 2005, and played with eight different NBA teams from 2005-2016. Despite his relatively short stature, Robinson became the first three-time champion of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
He truly epitomizes the title of his 2014 book, Heart Over Height. He left the NBA after the 2015-2016 season, but still plays professionally overseas. As of 2017, Robinson plays for Guaros de Laga of the Venezualan LPB League.
18. Nick Young
This picture captures Nick Young as a child growing up in California. Young is better known by his nickname, Swaggy P, a moniker he claims came to him in an episode of divine intervention. “God, in a dream, talked to me, and he gave me that name,” Young said in a 2014 Instagram video. Of course, he offered other reasons for his nickname. He said it arose from his good looks, and from his friends who appreciated his “swag.”
This youthful, buck-toothed Young might not have perfected his ‘swaggy’ persona at the time of this photo, but it’s clear by the sparkle in his eye that he’d go on to big things. He eventually played basketball for USC, where he earned back-to-back first team All-Pac 10 honors. He gained notoriety during his tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers from 2013-2017. He also made news for his tumultuous relationship with rapper Iggy Azalea, which ended in a broken engagement in 2016.
17. Kris Humphries
This infectious smile belongs to a young Kris Humphries. The world knows him as a basketball player, but he found his first passion in the pool instead of on the court. In fact, as a ten-year-old, Humphries registered top-10 finishes in nine different race categories in his home state of Minnesota.
At age 12, he hung up his swim trunks, picked up a basketball, and never looked back. He led Hopkins High School to a state championship in 2002 and earned All-American honors the following year.
When it came time to play college basketball, Humphries played for his father’s alma mater, the University of Minnesota. He broke into the NBA as a first-round draft pick with the Utah Jazz in 2004. He has since played for eight different teams. He also made headlines off the court for his brief 72-day marriage to Kim Kardashian.
16. Chauncey Billups
This is Chauncey Billups, well before his status as “Mr. Big Shot” with the Detroit Pistons. This childhood portrait shows the five-time All-Star rocking a retro Orange Crush shirt.
Perhaps that served as a foreshadow to Billups’ NBA career, as he crushed opponents’ hearts with his clutch three-point shooting. In fact, Billups holds the Pistons franchise record with 107 made three-point field goals in eight seasons with the team. Here he was though, just a little kid probably only dreaming about playing hoops at a court nearby.
Billups also led the Pistons to the 2004 NBA championship. He earned Finals MVP honors after averaging 21 points, 5.2 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game in the series.
15. Dirk Nowitzki
This is Dirk Nowitzki as a youngster growing up in Wurzburg, Germany. As a child, Nowitzki enjoyed playing tennis, as this photo suggests. He turned to basketball in his mid-teens, rising through the ranks of German professional basketball. His stardom eventually resulted in a first-round draft selection by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998 (he was then immediately traded to Dallas on draft day).
Nowitzki lived up to the hype for the Mavericks, making 13 All-Star appearances, earning the 2007 NBA MVP Award, and leading the Mavericks to their first NBA Championship in 2011.
Nowitzki holds numerous team records, including those for games played, points, three-point field goals, and rebounds. He has constantly turned down free agency and chosen to remain loyal to the team that took him as a rookie.
14. Kevin Love
Yes, that’s Kevin Love. It might not be the throwback picture he uses as his Twitter avatar, but it still captures him in his youth, growing up in Lake Oswego, Oregon. He excelled at basketball from an early age, and led his high school team to one state championship title in three appearances.
After a standout freshman season at UCLA, Love declared for the NBA draft. The Memphis Grizzlies took him fifth overall in 2008, but soon traded him to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a blockbuster deal.
Love’s star rose from there, as he made the NBA Second All-Rookie Team in 2009, and led the league in rebounds in 2011. Love joined the Cleveland Cavaliers via trade in August 2014, forming a “Big Three” with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. That trio carried Cleveland to three straight NBA finals appearances, although Love was injured for most of the team’s 2015 playoff run.
13. Steve Nash
No, your eyes do not deceive you. That is a young Steve Nash in soccer getup. Soccer was a large influence on Nash’s family life. He was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, where his father played professional soccer. Nash eventually moved to Canada, where he took up hockey.
Basketball didn’t attract Nash until his early teens. However, once it did, Nash never let it go. He played basketball, soccer, and even rugby during his high school career before earning a Div. I scholarship to play basketball for the Santa Clara Broncos.
Nash excelled at Santa Clara, both as a student and an athlete. He earned a sociology degree, along with a first-round draft selection by the Phoenix Suns in 1996. He spent several seasons with the Dallas Mavericks before returning to the Suns in 2004. He shot to superstardom in Phoenix, as he became on the premier playmakers and ball-handlers in the league. Nash won two straight NBA MVP Awards from 2005-2006, and led the NBA in assists in FIVE different seasons.
Nash joined the Lakers in 2012 in what marked an injury-plagued chapter in his career. After appearing in just 15 games during the 2013-14 season, Nash sat out the entire 2014-15 season with a back injury. He officially retired in March 2015, and eventually joined the Golden State Warriors as a consultant.
12. Chris Bosh
This is Chris Bosh, possibly foreshadowing the number one he would go on to wear during his NBA career. Bosh developed a love for basketball as a child growing up in Texas.
He starred for the Lincoln High School Tigers in Dallas, ending his senior year with a state championship title after an undefeated 40-0 season. “My time at Lincoln has a greater, deeper meaning to me now,” Bosh wrote on his website in 2016. “I’m happy that I was a part of something great, a part of our community.”
After one season at Georgia Tech, Bosh declared for the 2003 NBA draft. The Raptors took Bosh fourth overall, and he developed into a franchise player for the team. He famously left Toronto in 2009 to team up with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami. The “Big 3” went to the NBA Finals in four straight seasons, and won two consecutive championships. James eventually returned to Cleveland in 2014, but Bosh remained in Miami.
Unfortunately, Bosh missed much of the past two seasons due to a dangerous blood clot condition. The injury proved to be career-ending, as the Heat released Bosh following the 2016-17 season. Bosh is currently a free agent, and it’s unknown whether he’ll ever play professionally again.
11. Pau Gasol
Who can’t smile with an ice cream cone in hand? Certainly not Pau Gasol, as he demonstrates in this childhood photo. Gasol grew up in Barcelona, Spain, and began playing for FC Barcelona’s junior basketball team at age 16. By 18, Gasol moved on to the senior team, where he spent three years. His tenure culminated in a Finals MVP award as Barcelona won the Copa del Rey de Baloncesto trophy in 2001.
Gasol carried that championship pedigree into the NBA. He averaged 17.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game with the Grizzlies during the 2001-2002 season en route to winning the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. Gasol has since been named to six All-Star teams and won two NBA championships as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
10. Larry Bird
This classic portrait is of Celtic great Larry Bird. This picture shows Bird well before his days as “Larry Legend” in Boston and even before his college days at Indiana University as “The Hick from French Lick.” Of course, that moniker came from Bird’s modest upbringing in French Lick, Indiana as one of six children.
Bird went on to NBA stardom, winning three NBA titles with the Celtics, including two NBA Finals MVP Awards. He was also nominated to twelve All-Star teams and won three consecutive NBA MVP Awards.
He was also well-known for his competitive rivalry with Lakers star Magic Johnson. The two forged a deep friendship off the court, bolstered by their partnership on the “Dream Team” at the 1992 Olympic Games.
9. Blake Griffin
Whether it’s the round face or curly hair, this one is fairly easy. That’s Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin, taking a dunk in the pool well before he starting dunking on the basketball hoop. Griffin grew up in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in the 1990s. Griffin was home-schooled for much of his childhood before he enrolled in Oklahoma Christian School and joined the basketball team where his father served as coach.
He remained in Oklahoma for his college basketball career, where he averaged 18.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game in two seasons with the Sooners.
8. Russell Westbrook
You can tell that this smile definitely belongs to a young Russell Westbrook. In fact, this could be Westbrook today. That smile has not changed in the slightest. The reigning NBA MVP is pictured here after he began playing basketball at Jesse Owens Park on the outskirts of Los Angeles County.
Reggie Hamilton, Westbrook’s first coach in organized basketball, remembers how the future Oklahoma City star had a competitive fire from an early age. “Russell was always focused,” Hamilton told Darnell Mayberry of TheOklahoman/NewsOK.com in 2011. “He wasn’t distracted by anything. He had a vision at a young age of what he wanted to do and where he wanted to get. And that’s where he’s at now.”
To say Westbrook excelled would be a vast understatement. He was named the 2008 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year before going fourth overall to the Supersonics (later the Thunder) at that year’s draft. Westbrook is a six-time All-Star, two-time All-Star Game MVP, one-time league MVP, and two-time league scoring leader.
7. Kevin Durant
Speaking of Russell Westbrook, take a look at this picture of his former Thunder teammate, Kevin Durant. Durant is another player who hasn’t seemed to age much compared to his childhood photo. He still has that inquisitive, yet confident glance, complemented by a tall, lanky frame.
Durant grew up in Prince George County, Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C. He is pictured here in uniform for the PG County Jaguars, a local AAU team. He began his senior year at Montrose Christian School at the towering height of 6’7”.
Durant spent one season at the University of Texas before declaring for the NBA draft in 2007. The Supersonics selected Durant second overall, and he promptly rewarded them by winning the league’s Rookie of the Year Award that subsequent season.
His star grew after the team relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008. He led the NBA in scoring in four separate seasons, made seven All-Star appearances, and won the 2013-2014 NBA MVP Award. Durant made a highly-publicized move to the Golden State Warriors in 2016, where he captured his first NBA championship in his first season with the team. He was subsequently named NBA Finals MVP.
6. Steph Curry
Yes, that’s a baby-faced Steph Curry sitting with his basketball. The youthful-looking Curry seemingly hasn’t aged much since this photo was taken. All kidding aside, Curry grew up in a basketball family. He was born in Akron, Ohio, where his father, Dell, played basketball for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Curry spent much of his childhood in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Dell played ten seasons with the Hornets.
Curry would shoot around with his brother, Seth, on the court before games. Eventually, both brothers excelled at the sport. Steph enrolled at Davidson College, where he almost single-handedly led the Wildcats to the Elite 8 in the 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament.
The Golden State Warriors selected Curry seventh overall in the 2009 NBA draft, but the sharpshooter proved to possess top pick talent. Curry morphed into one of, if not the greatest, three-point shooter in NBA history. In 2012-2013, Curry set the single-season record for made three-pointers with 272. He broke that record twice in 2015 and 2016, as he won back-to-back NBA MVP Awards. He also led the Warriors to two NBA titles and shows no signs of slowing down as he enters the prime of his career.
5. Shaquille O’Neal
Yes, that big smile belongs to Shaquille O’Neal. The seven-foot center certainly grew into that smile as he aged. He was born in Newark, New Jersey, but spent a good portion of his childhood in Germany and Texas, where his stepfather, Philip Harrison, was stationed as a US Army Sergeant.
Shaq developed into a star on the basketball team at Robert G. Cole High School in San Antonio, Texas. He eventually enrolled at Louisiana State University to study business. It wasn’t long before he joined the school’s basketball team. He won two SEC Player of the Year Awards and was twice named a first-team All-American during his college career.
The Orlando Magic promptly selected O’Neal first overall in the 1992 draft, and he went on to become one of the most dominant centers in NBA history. He was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 1993.
Shaq’s menacing size and magnetic personality made him a star both on and off the court. As a 15-time All-Star, Shaq led the NBA in scoring twice, and averaged 23.7 points per game and 10.9 rebounds per game over his 19-year career. He also won four NBA championships and was a three-time Finals MVP.
4. Dwyane Wade
It’s clear Dwyane Wade had style from a young age. Whether it’s his easy-going gaze into the camera, or his dark blue bow-tie, Wade seemed confident from the start. Wade needed to have that strong backbone, as he grew up in very trying circumstances.
He was born in the South Side of Chicago, surrounded by violence and drug addiction. His mother, Jolinda, began dealing drugs when Wade was a child, and she eventually fell victim to addiction. Wade and his sister moved to nearby Robbins, Illinois to live with Wade’s father.
Wade developed a love for basketball to avoid falling into the traps of street life and gang trouble.Wade began his high school sports career as a football wide receiver at Harold L. Richards High School in the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn. By the middle of his junior year, Wade developed into a star on the basketball team as well.
Wade spent two years playing college basketball at Marquette before declaring for the 2003 NBA draft. The Heat selected him fifth overall, and he paid immediate dividends in Miami. He helped lead the Heat to their first NBA title in 2006. He welcomed LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami in 2010 and won two more titles in 2012 and 2013.
3. Kobe Bryant
If this picture is any indication, Kobe Bryant had that killer instinct from the start. He was born in Philadelphia, but lived in Italy from age six to age 13. He learned to speak fluent Italian as his father, Joe Bryant, continued his pro basketball career overseas.Kobe’s family moved back to Philadelphia after the elder Bryant retired.
Kobe soon began turning heads with his stellar play at Lower Merion High School. He eventually chose to forego college and declared for the NBA draft in 1996.
The Charlotte Hornets took him with the 13th overall pick and promptly traded him to the Lakers. The rest, as they say, is history. Bryant went on to spend his entire 20-year career in Los Angeles. He scored over 33,000 points in the purple and gold and was an 18-time All-Star, five time NBA world champion, two-time scoring champion, and one-time league MVP.
2. Carmelo Anthony
This is Carmelo Anthony as a young child growing up in Brooklyn, New York. Unfortunately, New York may not feel too much like home for Anthony today, given how Knicks management has treated him. At the same time, he has a history with the city and the state. He moved to Baltimore at age eight, but returned to New York to play college basketball at Syracuse.
He eventually headed west to Denver after the Nuggets took him third overall in 2003. He made 10 All-Star teams and won three Olympic gold medals as part of the Team USA Basketball Team. He is also Team USA’s all-time scoring leader.
He arrived in New York in a blockbuster trade in February 2011, and has since become one of the Knicks’ franchise cornerstones. Unfortunately for Anthony, the Knicks have failed to assemble a good team around him, and only made the playoffs once during his tenure. Now, trade rumors are swirling around the star forward and he appears to want out of New York.
1. LeBron James
This one is fairly easy. That’s LeBron James. There is not much to LeBron’s story that remains unknown. He grew up in Akron, Ohio, where he attended St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. Before that, he played AAU Basketball for the Northeast Ohio Shooting Stars. He his national profile exploded at St. Vincent-St. Mary. By his junior year, James was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year, an award he would win again as a senior.
By that point, the hype surrounding James was such that he declared for the 2003 NBA draft. His hometown Cleveland Cavaliers took him first overall in one of the deepest draft classes in recent NBA history.
LeBron established himself as arguably the greatest player in the NBA since Michael Jordan. Some even place him ahead of Jordan in debates over who is the greatest NBA player of all time. James’ stats speak for themselves. He has 13 All-Star selections, four NBA MVP Awards, three NBA championships, and seven straight NBA Finals appearances.
James is also active in charitable causes as the founder of the LeBron James Family Foundation. He has also made headlines for dabbling into the political sphere with his criticisms of President Donald Trump. Love him or hate him, LeBron remains the face of the NBA, and one of the most recognizable athletes in the world.
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