Cute’s Gonna Cute: NBA Kids Before They Became Stars
We know these superstar ballers as some of the biggest and best basketball talents in the world, but it was a long road before they became synonymous with greatness.
As those classic Powerade commercials perfectly put it, “We’re all just a kid from somewhere.”
Take a trip in this NBA time machine, as we get a ridiculous, hilarious and all around awesome look back at the most famous stars in the game long before they were on the nation’s radar.
Can the biggest and baddest man on the planet be any more of a little cutie?!
LeBron James may be strike fear in the eyes of the best basketball players in the world these days, but this Bron Bron needs a bearhug ASAP.
There’s so much going on here, it’s impossible to pick a favorite part. The fact that this little king is already rocking a basketball watch is fantastic, but that stylish accessory is only the start. Between the cardigan and teal turtleneck, LeBron’s ‘90s swag is off the charts.
This pic screams “Future MVP.”
Brace yourselves, because we never thought there’d be a day we’d hear this either…
How sweet and innocent does young Carmelo Anthony look?! This fella is CRUSHING the yellow on yellow look like it’s nobody’s business. Some people are just born with swag.
Long before Hoodie Melo, the scoring machine was still showing us how to #StayMe7o by unapologetically getting on his high horse with an ear to ear grin.
As for the decision to have Melo’s outfit blend in with the backdrop? Questionable at best.
Caron Butler, Tony Romo
Before Caron Butler’s work ethic earned him the nickname “Tuff Juice,” he was making his presence known on the courts of Racine, WI. Butler wasn’t the only future star athlete to ball out on these Wisconsin courts, however.
In what is undoubtedly one of the more intriguing rivalries in recent sports history, a young Tony Romo, left, is pictured with Butler, second from right. Before Romo starred on the gridiron for the Dallas Cowboys, he was a top high school talent on the hardwood.
Butler has sworn that Romo could’ve played pro ball if he chose that path. Now that’s quite a thought.
This image right here is everything that was right about athletic apparel and fashion in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Is that giant baggy shirt actually part of a whole outfit with those form fitting pants?
Canary yellow, bold block prints, a collar just for the sake of it, and some mullet action to top it all off. Dirk slayed this look.
Dirk has always been an avid tennis fan and was even a nationally ranked talent before deciding that he was too tall to play the sport. Tennis’ loss proved to be basketball’s gain, as the Germinator went on to change the sport, helping to put European and world talent on the map.
Goodness gracious. It’s incredible how easily recognizable Gordon Hayward is even at a passing glance. Even with the fresh cut he’s gone with in the NBA, his mop top and hat can’t hide that unmistakable face.
Then there’s the rest of his that’s missing about 100 pounds of muscle.
These two shots of Gordon give an awsome look at the baller we know and athlete that could’ve been.
The Indiana-born forward was already repping his future college team Butler with the ridiculous ‘00s nylon Bulldogs jersey. He was also an incredibly talented tennis player and nearly gave up basketball to pursue tennis since he was still only 5-foot-11 as high school freshman!
Kevin Love, Isaiah Thomas
This throwback of a baby-faced Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas at the famous ABCD basketball camp is too good.
At 5-foot-9, IT already looks like a child compared to other NBA players on the court, but this ’05 snapshot takes it to another level.
With Love in a jersey and IT wearing that lanyard, it legitimately looks like a young fan asking if he can sneak a quick picture. Realizing they’re almost the exact same age is mind-blowing.
Jarring as this photo is, a heftier Love looks so different today from his UCLA days, it’d take some convincing to believe the two are brothers let alone the same person.
Kobe Bryant spent much of his youth in Italy where his father played professional basketball.
The left shot of Kobe not only shows off a fantastic flattop, it offers a glimpse at how much he takes after his father in the looks department. Trim those perfect right angles off Kobe’s dome and we’d have a mirror image father-son duo.
The picture on the right is, well, it’s just plain ridiculous. It’s no wonder Kobe was such a stone-cold killer his entire NBA career. He adopted his “Mamba Mentality” from an early age – this is a 12-year-old Kobe guarding a straight up grown man in Italy.
Imagine holding this picture up to someone and, with a totally straight face, saying, “This is Larry. They’re going to call him ‘Larry Legend’ because he’ll be one of the greatest basketball players ever.”
Yeah, not a chance.
Replace that with, “This is Larry. They’re going to call him ‘The Hick from French Lick,” and that feels more believable.
Bird never exactly had the build of a superstar athlete, but it’s still remarkable to think this scrawny, baby-faced mop top would go on to be one of the most influential basketball players of all time.
Modern medicine and exercise science continues to advance at a staggering pace, and this picture is an incredible example of just that.
In this picture, Jayson Tatum is just a crazy excited middle schooler getting to meet one of the biggest stars in the game in LeBron James.
Fast forward to the 2018 playoffs when Tatum, the No. 3 overall pick of the 2017 draft, is guarding James in the Eastern Conference Finals.
While Tatum has transformed into a whole new person, the only difference with LeBron is a little less hair and a little more muscle (and a few more rings).
Sweet mother of monsters, Marc Gasol is a full blown giant!
This throwback of the younger Gasol brother is from his high school playing days at Lausanne in Memphis after the Spaniard’s big bro began his NBA career with the Grizzlies.
While his Spanish teammates dubbed Marc “La Tanqueta,” or “The Tank,” while his western Tennessean class and teammates knew him as “Big Burrito.” That sounds like a pretty ridiculous nickname for an athlete, but it probably doesn’t take too many guesses to figure out how he earned that.
So much cringe.
What was it about the late ‘90s and early ‘00s that made so many misguided souls decide that dying the dome blond would be a really good look? After a second look, is this even hair dye or is literally just everything about Pau paler?
On the right we have our slightly more digestible Pau Gasol, who at least only has a serious lack of beard to get over before accepting that’s the same seven-footer.
From blond to brown to bulky to bearded, the two-time NBA champ has certainly had a weird way of growing into himself.
Aside from the fact that Nate Robinson literally looked like a fun-sized version of himself as a child, it shouldn’t take much convincing to agree the high-flying dunker has always been an animated ball of energy.
At 5-foot-9, Robinson obviously had to be insanely athletic to make it in the NBA, but the fact that a prepubescent Nate had a more ripped EIGHT-pack than most of us could even dream is just absurd.
As for that flex and facial expression? He delivered that look more times on the court than we can count.
Has Rajon Rondo always looked older than he really is or younger? Either way, the talented point guard has likely never needed to use a razor even once in his life and that will likely remain the case forever.
Always an incredibly gifted athlete, Rondo’s first love growing up in Kentucky was actually football before his mother turned him away from the sport to focus on basketball, fearing that his wiry frame would lead to injury. The 2008 NBA champ would agree, mom knows best.
Before we knew this bad man as The Brodie, Russell Westbrook was a little rebel with a pair of cheeks that are just begging to be pinched.
Russ seriously looks so innocent here that seeing him without the fire of 1,000 suns in his eyes is almost a little off-putting.
Something about wearing that Rebels shirt feels like he was born to embrace the bad boy role in OKC and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s also a showing sign that the man had some killer style, making fashion statements long before he started working it in the NBA.
Now this is an insane throwback.
Steph Curry may have looked like an undersized wiry guard coming out of college, but realizing the talent he was surrounded by throughout his childhood proves he was on a path to greatness since day one.
Steph’s dad, Dell, was a longtime NBA sharpshooting talent. Here, he’s sitting on dad’s lap next to NBA Hall of Famer Mitch Richmond and former three-point shooting great Drazen Petrovic.
Who could’ve ever imagined that the greatest shooter of all time sitting on that bench at the 1992 All-Star Weekend was the cute kid on pop’s lap?
Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair
Ooo-wee there is a lot of flashback New York City fun packed into one photo here.
For starters, we have a young Stephon Marbury who, with this being the summer of ’96, is only months away from kicking off his NBA career.
Marbury’s style is a trip too. Remembering that And1 was one of the biggest brands in basketball, the fact that Starbury actually had hair and has his name inked on his arm are all worth a smile.
Oh, and then there’s the other Coney Island kid. That’s future lottery pick Sebastian Telfair. It’s a small small world.
This is too much to handle. Every single average-looking Canadian white guy joke that can be made about Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash has been many times over.
When pictures of his childhood like this surface, it’s hard to defend the guy.
That being said, soccer has always played an important role in Nash’s life. He grew up playing the game his entire life and sears he could have played it professionally if he hadn’t chosen to pursue basketball.
Nash sure has come a long way, as he became co-owner of the MLS expansion team Vancouver Whitecaps FC in 2011.
Strap in for this one. We have photographic evidence that Kawhi Leonard is legitimately capable of executing the happiness indicator normal humans refer to as a “smile.”
All it apparently takes to get The Klaw to smile is a room full of balloons. Even then, he wasn’t willing to bare the chompers.
On the right, we have a Kawhi who’s much truer to form. That’s the, “this is the best smile you’re gonna get, fella” look.
Even though the San Diego State alum was rocking the UNC tee, at least he knew already knew great basketball when he saw it. That, plus he was probably already balling so hard that UNC was getting a little early recruiting in with some free swag.
Talk about a tale of two generations. Chris Paul, now a seasoned veteran in the NBA who has established himself as one of the all-time great point guards the league has ever seen, could not look any more giddy to meet his hoop hero, Tim Duncan.
Now let’s drink in this retro Timmy Dunks action. Vintage Duncan. Even when the man is front and center for a photograph he shyly looks the other way. Rocking grey on grey? He probably looked in the mirror and still thought he looked too flamboyant.
Vince Carter is a man of many nicknames from the “Flying Man” to “Air Canada.” Vinsanity blew the roof off with his legendary dunk contest performance that flipped the art of the jam on its head.
But Half-Man, Half-Amazing needs to tack on a Half-Wait-What? with this flashback.
As if Carter isn’t already enough of a marvel with his revolutionary jam sessions, he also has some skills in the soul department to go with those ridiculous hops.
VC played saxophone, then took up a drum major while playing in the high school marching band. Sounds like Carter accomplished more in high school than most of us will in a lifetime.
Get the cameras, we got a fashion icon striking a pose!
This adorable photo of a young Yao Ming legitimately looks like it came out of some sort of style magazine or vacation pamphlet for China, showing how the Great Wall is “Fun for the whole family!”
There is a lot going on with this outfit, but it’s so over the top that it actually works. The bellbottom pants with cat face(?) patches stitched on are just… oh man, they are simply fantastic.
We would all be better humans if we knew young Yao.
Ben Simmons is still crazy young, but it’s no wonder he’s already one of the top talents in the NBA, he already had a rock in hand while still wearing diapers. This was likely the last time he still couldn’t palm a ball.
As young as Simmons look in this secondary school photo, for all we know, he could shave off that chinstrap beard thingy and still look like he’s 15.
With Kristaps Porzingis’ 7-foot-3 stature towering over his competition, it’s easy to forget just how young the incredible talent still is. The right gives us a glimpse of what the little Latvian looked like before growing into his hulkish hoops frame.
The left shot is a whole different story.
Give it up for the Porzingod, the Unicorn, the legend who knew he was a baller before any of us and for it all with the cornrows. BOLD look. Couple that with the Air Jordan headband and we got certified gold.
By far the most jarring part of these throwback shots of Anthony Davis in high school is that one very important, very iconic piece is missing. Where’s the brow?!
Looking at The Brow without the brow feels so scandalous.
The other crazy part of these pictures is that AD looks so small, which is because he totally is. As a freshman, Davis was still six feet. By the end of his sophomore year he’d grown another four inches, and it didn’t stop until he hit 6-foot-10.
Kevin Durant looks like he was already about that life even as a kid. KD is gripping the rock and shooting a look that screams, “I got next.”
Most impressive of all is that he hasn’t gained a pound since these pictures.
This shot on the left doesn’t even make sense. The longer you stare (especially the left), the more it looks like Durant hasn’t aged a day and honestly looks like he might be able to grow a fuller mustache than he can today.
Goodness gracious, there is no amount of product in the world that could craft an afro as flawless as that bad boy.
Between the incredible haircare and the all-white everything, Magic and coach are absolutely crushing the high school game.
It was during this time playing high school ball at Everett (Lansing, MI) that Earvin first earned his nickname “Magic” after stuffing the stat sheet with a monster triple-double.
As time would show, even though the fro would go, the triple-doubles kept on coming.
There is something that just doesn’t sit right looking at young Kyrie Irving.
Have you ever known someone for a long time, then one day, instead of that friend with the full head of hair, you’re greeted by a cue ball?
This is that.
Kyrie has had a beard or some form of facial hair for such a long time now we all just kind of assumed he was born with the scruff. Instead, we’re met with this dapper looking child on the left whose stare can burn right through us and a high schooler who …
No. This is too much. We can only accept one beardless Kyrie right now.
There is something about this Splash Bro that makes every single picture and video taken of him off the basketball court instantly turn to gold.
We’ve had all sorts of ridiculousness on Twitter alone that inevitably lead to some hilarious hashtag.
There was #ChinaKlay after his hilarious string of mishaps while touring Chin, #ScaffoldingKlay when he was randomly interviewed on the streets of New York to talk about scaffolding and even #FakeKlay when a jarring lookalike dressed up in Warriors gear to attend games.
Now we have #BabyKlay, the cute origin story of this photogenic hashtag saga.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree with this baby baller.
Little Blake is working with his mom’s curls and what a sight it is. By far the best of this snapshot is that mom didn’t do Blake any favors with this perfect angle.
With the perfect angle he’s being held at, Blake looks like he’s rocking the cutest baby gut ever. He may be a little round mound of rebound, but we’ll following his pudgy pointer finger and checkout the replay and agree that pops just needs some more work behind the camera.
Man, oh man. He got it from his momma.
Long before three-time NBA champion Andre Iguodala was smiling about his winning it all a few times over, he was cheesing it up just the same with his family.
Between moms and his older brother, Frank, these three smiles could not look any more similar.
His big bro is all out of whack pointing nowhere near the camera and wearing an Ohio State sweatshirt when the fam’s from Illinois, but at least Andre’s ahead of the game with the blue for the 76ers, Nuggets and Warriors… way ahead of the game.