It's hard to believe it's been four years since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, but here we are. The Miami Heat's Big Three have been more entertaining than any of us could have imagined — and not just because they've dominated on the court. From Chris Bosh's trippy run in the Borscht Film Festival's Adventures of Christopher Bosh in the Multiverse to Dwyane Wade's amazing fashion antics, these guys are pure internet gold.
The greatest Heatles web hit of all, though, is the "Lelbron," a zillion-times Photoshopped and GIF'ed pic of James with a particularly troll-like grin and hipster glasses. But how exactly did an obscure picture of LeBron smiling become the best thing on the web?
It all began with an inconspicuous shot taken March 9, 2012. The blog for Crave, a Coral Gables restaurant, posted a photo of its owner and chef posing with a cheesing LeBron, D-Wade, and Bosh. It's the sort of photo that Heat players take daily, fans would brag about forever, and the rest of the world would never see.
"Lelbron": A History of the Web's Greatest LeBron Meme
The meme was born in the infamous 4chan community, the bulletin-board-based site where anyone can post or share images. The group cropped out James' head and did what 4chan does best — internet so hard by posting the head on all kinds of viral photos.
The image soon spread to YouTube, where the user NowItsInTheTrashCan uploaded a video titled "lelbron.gif" that took the grinning LeBron head and set it rotating hypnotically to the track "Ridin' Spinners" by Three 6 Mafia. For four minutes 14 seconds, that's all that happens. It's the most ridiculously simple thing, but more than 20,000 people have watched it.
From there, the internet did the rest of the work. By all accounts, Heat fan Azam Masood deserves the most credit for drawing attention to the "Lelbron" meme.
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"In like 2012, I saw them and asked, 'Where on Earth did he make that derpy face?'" says Azam, who, as @AMas92, has 500 Heat-devoted followers on Twitter. "A few unknown people were making them, and I started making them for fun. It was just funny on everything you put it on. LeBron himself seems to be somewhat aware of it."
Indeed, after a Heat game last season, LeBron all but confirmed he's in on the joke by duplicating the face in a video bomb of Wade's postgame interview with Jason Jackson. He's since showed off the absurd grin at the All-Star Game and at another Heat game.
With online users feeling validated that LeBron has taken notice of their efforts, the Photoshopped pics and GIFs have begun pouring in tenfold, popping up everywhere from Twitter and Facebook to Tumblr and Instagram.
The image makes Heat fans as happy as it makes Heat haters angry. And the true fuel behind any meme is the simple fact that it's almost never not funny.