Long before starring in the NBA as headliners of its 2003 draft class, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James were two of the most heralded high school prospects in America.
On Feb. 10, 2002, the nation’s top high school junior and senior would share the floor when James’ St. Vincent-St. Mary team took on Anthony’s Oak Hill Academy team at a neutral location in Trenton, N.J.
20 years later, the next generation takes center stage. On Dec. 12, 2022, James’ son, Bronny, and his Sierra Canyon team from California will face Anthony’s son, Kiyan, and his Christ the King team from New York in a nationally televised high school showcase.
Before looking ahead to the future, let’s take a trip back to 2002, which was the beginning of a head-to-head rivalry — and a lifelong friendship — between Anthony and James.
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LeBron James vs. Carmelo Anthony high school game, revisited
The setting was Sovereign Bank Arena (now CURE Insurance Arena) in Trenton, N.J., where a reported crowd of over 11,000 fans piled in to watch the future of basketball.
The meeting was a major deal.
Anthony was already committed to play at Syracuse while the game occurred just days before James would be dubbed as “The Chosen One” on the cover of Sports Illustrated to become the biggest high school athlete in the history of American team sports.
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Stats from LeBron James vs. Carmelo Anthony high school game
Score: Oak Hill Academy (Va.) 72, St. Vincent-St. Mary (Ohio) 66
James: 36 points (12-27 FG), eight rebounds, six steals, five assists
Anthony: 34 points (14-25 FG), 11 rebounds, two assists
Anthony and the Warriors got the best of James’ Irish team, though James did a better job of filling up the stat sheet. Oak Hill, which was and still is a national prep power, moved to 25-1 on the season with the win, which was part of a national schedule that it played.
Highlights from LeBron James vs. Carmelo Anthony high school game
As big of a deal as the game was, it came before there was enough demand to broadcast such events live, limiting the number of available highlights from the game.
While footage was limited, it did provide an epic photo.
In February 2002, Carmelo Anthony & Oak Hill played some junior in high school from Akron, Ohio named LeBron James. pic.twitter.com/EEloObLSwT
— Detroit Griot (@JustCallmeBHunt) June 13, 2017
After Anthony moved on to Syracuse, James and St. Vincent-St. Mary would exact revenge on Oak Hill nearly 10 months later in a game that was televised nationally on ESPN 2.
The birth of a friendship
As two of the country’s top prospects, Anthony and James were well aware of one another due to various camps and events, but according to Anthony, this matchup is when they became friends.
Anthony recalled the situation during an appearance on the “All the Smoke” podcast:
We get to Jersey, we get to the Prime-Time Shootout and we come in the hotel, and he was like ‘you Melo?’ ‘Yeah!’ It was All-Star weekend in Philly, too. And we sat on the steps for hours the night before that game. I don’t know nothing about you dog, you don’t know nothing about me.
We clicked from that moment, we just felt like we’re from similar backgrounds, single-parent home, broken family, growing up in the hood. So we connected for that, before basketball. … I was looking for some type of relationship like that with somebody, he was looking for that as well, so we came in each other’s life at the right time. We were both looking for that brotherhood.
20 years later, the two have been teammates on the Olympic, All-Star and NBA stages. They now get to watch their sons begin the next generation of the James-Anthony battles.