CINCINNATI — Roger Bacon baseball coach Tim McCoy overhears wide-eyed freshmen every year discuss the fact that he played basketball against LeBron James.
“It’s funny how it trickles down because the kids that I coach now were babies then,” said McCoy, who was a senior on Roger Bacon's 2002 state championship basketball team.
“It’s like folklore here. People talk about it constantly."
Roger Bacon's 71-63 win over James and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in the 2002 Division II state final is one of the most well-known state championship games in Ohio High School Athletic Association history.
"Even to this day, pretty much some kind of memory pops up at least weekly, if not daily,” said Dave Bidwell, a longtime Roger Bacon unofficial assistant coach.
The folklore has grown over the years as James -- a three-time NBA champion and four-time most valuable player -- continues to ascend the record books in his 17th pro season.
"What's really fun is just watching LeBron on TV," said 2002 Roger Bacon player Matt Reed. "It really helps us with the memories of what we did just stay relevant. He's arguably the best player the game has ever seen. And when he does this triple-double or this 40-point night at the age of 36 or 35 -- it's like, 'Did you see LeBron last night?'
"It's pretty nuts. It's still kind of a shock that we beat a team that he was on."
James had 32 points in his team's loss in the state final; he had guaranteed a victory the day before the game.
But Roger Bacon's Spartans led at halftime and led the overall rebounding advantage, 32-18, for the game. Even as James soared down the stretch, the Spartans kept responding.
"Honestly, I tell people this all the time that ever ask me this," McCoy said. "We were the better team. LeBron was the best player in the world. But we were the better team."
The March 23, 2002, state final at Value City Arena in Columbus is the third highest-attended OHSAA boys basketball state final (18,375) in history -- and perhaps the most discussed in the past two decades.
“It's probably been six, seven years since I watched it, but I can watch it in my head all the time,” said Roger Bacon head coach Brian Neal, who was an assistant coach on the ‘02 team.
The Spartans gave James his only Ohio loss on the court during his high school career. The Fighting Irish were 79-2 against Ohio opponents during James' high school career including a forfeit to Akron Buchtel his senior season.
James was selected as the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft and the rest of his story in the league is certainly well-documented.
"(James) encapsulates the perfect basketball player as far as his IQ, his vision, his athletic ability," said 2002 Roger Bacon player Beckham Wyrick. "I don't think anybody could've anticipated him being as good as he's ended up being and between him and Mike (Michael Jordan) as the best ever to do it. I'm proud of him. I want him to keep trucking."
Peggy Brewer, widow of the late Roger Bacon coach Bill Brewer, has kept memorabilia from that state final.
"People still ask about it," she said. "Sometimes when you are in a business meeting people will say, 'Give an icebreaker or something unique about yourself' so I usually go back to 'I knew the man that beat LeBron.'"
Bill Brewer smiled often in the months that followed his crowning coaching achievement.
"It was really one of the happiest days of our lives," Peggy Brewer said. "I don't want to put the birth of my children down, the day that we got married. Those were all fantastic days. But this you can never really plan for. You can work very hard, you can try for it. But you can never plan on winning a state championship, let alone beating the best player in the nation. So it was pretty neat. And the better LeBron does the better our story gets, even all these years later."
The impact of Bill Brewer, who died in 2007, and late athletic director Joe Corcoran, who died in 2013, is still felt today. Both men were remembered fondly at Roger Bacon's 50th annual sports stag in January.
"Actually Matt Reed and I -- we were together driving over here-- and Matt said to me, 'I wish Cork and Brew were still a part of this,'" McCoy said. "And I said, 'Man, that is the same thing.' They were great guys. They were the hardest guys in the world to play for. They kicked your butt up and down this place. And you were scared of them. Every move you made you looked over your shoulder like, 'Oh, god, I hope I don't mess up.' But once you left here, you look back and are like, 'They completely shaped and molded us to what we are today.'"
Bidwell, who has helped Roger Bacon since 1991, said the players have learned life lessons that go beyond what happened 18 years ago.
“You can take the 2002 championship, which was fabulous,” Bidwell said, “But put that aside, just to see what they are doing now. They are all successful. They've got their families and they are still keeping in touch and that's a big thing, too."
McCoy's 8-year-old son, Parker, has a LeBron James' Los Angeles Lakers replica jersey and poster hanging in his room.
"Every once in a while my son will ask me about it," McCoy said. "And he will have a friend over and he will be like, 'Hey, put on (the time) my dad beat LeBron James or whatever. Let's put it on DVD.' His buddies are like, 'No, he didn't. He never played LeBron James.' And then they see it and then they are like, 'Oh, man, he did play LeBron James.' That keeps it pretty fresh in my memory."