Some of the most accomplished pro athletes in sports burst onto the scene as kids.
So, it should come as no surprise that another supremely talented teenager is laying the groundwork for her career before adulthood. 15-year-old CoCo Gauff took the world by storm with her showing at Wimbledon. In the process, she just might’ve cemented herself as pro sports’ next big thing before she’s even legally allowed to drive.
We’ve already seen the likes of LaMelo Ball, Chloe Kim, Red Gerard and however many eighth graders Nick Saban has made offers to, shine long before the end of their teenage years. Long before them, though, there was a group of trail blazers who normalized the idea of hyped-up kids. What a goofy sentence that was.
In any case, we compiled our Mount Rushmore of kids who were notably great at sports, before their 18th birthday.
This is the George Washington of our Mount Rushmore. LeBron James’ name became synonymous with phenom after he broke the glass ceiling for high schoolers appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated. I mean, I was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a kid too. It’s worth noting, however, that I was only on the cover because my mother ordered the specialty Sports Illustrated border around my flag football picture. So, I guess I did it long before James made it cool.
Sports Illustrated cover, 17 years ago today. The most hyped high schooler of all time, @kingjames, unlike so many others before him who were called “The Next Big Thing,” actually lived up to all of what they said he would be. A remarkable story. pic.twitter.com/bGnWEH7Q5n— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) February 18, 2019
I didn’t average 28 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists as a junior in high school, though. James did, and he followed that up with 30.4, 9.7 and 4 as a senior before going on to become the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft. Sports Illustrated called him “The Chosen One” when he was 17-years-old. That only would’ve been crazy if he didn’t live up to that billing, which he did rather quickly. He averaged 20, 5 and 5 in his first season with the Cavaliers, which netted him Rookie of the Year honors. Since then, James has added 15 more years of experience to his resume and posted career averages of 27.4, 7.4 and 7.2. He’s won four MVP awards, three championships and made 15 All-NBA teams.
Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated once referred to Bryce Harper as the most exciting prodigy since LeBron. That billing accompanied Harper on his 2009 Sports Illustrated cover, following in the footsteps of basketball’s prodigy. Harper was featured when he was just 16-years-old and, much like James, he was ultimately selected with the first overall pick when he was 17-years old.
Found my copy of Sports Illustrated from June 8, 2009.— Benjamin Hochman (@hochman) December 11, 2018
16-year-old Bryce Harper on the cover.
An incredible lede to the story, too. pic.twitter.com/q8IDbPDGVO
It only took him two years to make his major league debut for the Washington Nationals at age 19. In 139 games as a rookie, Harper posted a .270 batting average and 22 home runs and won the NL Rookie of the Year race. He played in Washington for seven seasons before signing a 13-year, $330 million-dollar contract with the Phillies in free agency.
Now 26, Harper has already played pro baseball for eight seasons and he’s now signed for what will likely be the remainder of his career. To date, he’s won an MVP award and been named to six All-Star teams. Maybe he didn’t end up as the LeBron of baseball, but he’s still been one of baseball’s premier talents for close to a decade.
Page 2: Little League and Golf
Want to read more sports articles like this? Sign up for our newsletter now and have them delivered to you before anyone else!