Sneaker industry executive Sonny Vaccaro Discussed Lenny Cooke & LeBron James’ 2001 ABCD Camp Matchup with Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson on Scoop B Radio Press Play Below To Listen!
Over the last twenty years, AAU basketball has become just as important as the organized game itself. Sneaker companies, coaches and recruiters all get a glimpse into the future of the game.
One of the most elite programs to step foot in was the now-defunct ABCD camp.
From 1994-2006 ABCD Camp was THE show at Teaneck, New Jersey’s Fairleigh Dickinson College. You name ‘em they played in it: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Rashard Lewis, Kenyon Martin, Kevin Garnett, Sebastian Telfair, Charlie Villanueva.
That picture floating around with a younger Kevin Love and an even younger Isaiah Thomas, now team Cleveland Cavaliers teammates; yup, it happened at ABCD Camp.
Sonny Vaccaro, a former sneaker executive with all three of the major sneaker brands: Nike, Adidas was the braintrust behind that camp.
Vaccaro most notably got Michael Jordan to sign with Nike and signed Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant to Adidas deals. Vaccaro also challenged the NBA’s one-and-done rule by advising Brandon Jennings to play overseas in Italy for a year before declaring for the NBA Draft.
Vaccaro historically signed LeBron James to a $90 million deal with Nike before even playing his first NBA game.
Speaking of James, the world became familiar of him at Vaccaro’s ABCD Camp in 2001. LeBron wasn’t even the headliner; it was Lenny Cooke, a Brooklyn native by way of Northern Valley High School in Old Tappan, New Jersey.” I think that Jay Z might have been in attendance,” Sonny Vaccaro told me on Scoop B Radio.
“What you had was a mystical appearance of this kid from Ohio who had not yet broken into the national scene. The only camp LeBron had gone to was ABCD camp and Lenny was the reigning number one high school player in America and sort of magnified himself by being this very mysterious kid also.”
Cooke averaged 25 points, hauled in 10 rebounds, two steals and two blocks per game in his junior year at Northern Valley High School with high school scouts ranking him ahead of retired NBA forward Amar’e Stoudemire, James and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Carmelo Anthony.
In the closing seconds of the game, Cooke’s team had the lead and possession of the basketball. James stole the ball from Cooke, scored on a fast break and won the game. That play introduced the world to the Akron, Ohio baller who was later featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the cover titled, ‘The Chosen One.’ “The funny this about it is that it wasn’t like Lenny did bad,” said Sonny Vaccaro. “But LeBron just won the game.”
James would enter the NBA Draft in 2003 and win three NBA championships.
While speaking at Philadelphia’s Mount Olivet Tabernacle Baptist Church with Rev. Andre L. Price last year, Cooke says that not showing up for team workouts hindered his draft stock. “My kids like LeBron James now,” said Cooke.
“He’s earned everything he’s gotten and taken advantage of every opportunity he’s been given. How can I be mad at him? He built his brand the right way!”“That game didn’t single-handedly mean anything other than it was played in New York at a summertime camp and a lot of people saw it,” said Vaccaro.
“Lenny was over-confident and had the New York bravado and LeBron was LeBron and he probably didn’t care who he was playing against other than the name and that sort of carried over into his life. LeBron has taken everything that has come his way since that night and today and hopefully for a lot more of playing basketball. LeBron took everything more serious than Lenny Cooke and I think if you play the game, it didn’t begin that night but what it did was dramatize the reign of LeBron and the eventual downfall of Lenny Cooke.”
Cooke would declare for the 2002 NBA Draft and went undrafted. An NBA career would never materialize and he’d later play in the Rucker Park league, NBDL and USBL. He’d also play overseas in China and the Philippines.
Cooke has recently found his niche: coaching. Cooke coaches high school basketball in Atlantic City, New Jersey and travels across the country mentoring kids and speaking on panels at swanky locations like Microsoft.
Cooke recently weighed in on the NBA’s one and done rule stating that a player must be 19 years old or one year removed from their high school’s graduating class.
“I mean I disagree a little bit,” Cooke told me on Scoop B Radio.
“If you’re just going for one year, it ain’t really benefitting you. You’re still a child. I mean, at the end of the day, one year’s not going to [do anything]. If you get hurt, then you’re done.”
A subject of a 93-minute documentary, called “Lenny Cooke,” the film documents his high school career. The film was directed by brothers Josh and Bennie Safdie and executive produced by New York Knicks forward, Joakim Noah. “It is easy to tell stories about your success,” Joakim Noah told me.
“But extremely courageous to do the same with your failures,”
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