Cast your mind back before all the controversy, all the slander and all the hate, to October 29th, 2003. The building was the Arco Arena, the city was Sacramento and the team was the Kings. The story was the 18 year old prodigy who was the no.1 pick in the draft and coincidentally ended up with his home town team. He wore the most famous number in sports in reference to the most famous athlete in sports and promised many of the things that man achieved.
It was a great time.
I was watching the game the other day, reminiscing of times much simpler in the wine and gold rather the red, black and white. At the end of the game I sat there for a few moments staring at the blank screen in front of me. Had I just watched LeBron James age 18 or LeBron James age 26?
Don’t get me wrong, LeBron has come so far in his game, to the point where very few argue he is the greatest basketball player in the world right now. Certainly the most talented. But the characteristics and notables of James’ first game were chillingly similar to how we see the man today.
James hit his first shot, a mid range uncontested jumper and from there set out on a rampage. He broke a double team and hit another jump shot before nailing a filthy fadeaway over the top of Brad Miller from just inside the three point line. He then cut through the Kings defence and double clutched a beautiful lay up. To cap it off he played the passing lanes to perfection, intercepted the ball and took off down court for one of those full extension tomahawks now more commonly known as ‘the LeBron’. He had 10 points in the first quarter missing just one shot, and also added a few assists.
See what I mean? Was that 18 year old LeBron James or 26 year old LeBron James? Who would know? Well in that case it was the 18 year old LeBron James, but the comparisons are just ridiculous.
James went on to put up 25 points on 12/20 shooting, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals and just two turnovers in 42 minutes of game time.
Need I say it again?
I am going to anyway. The similarities between that game and the next 8 years we have seen from LeBron James are just astonishing.
His jump shot has improved out of sight, he has added more range to his game, his decision making is greater, his footwork has grown and he has become an All NBA defender, all things that were not a real feature of the 18 year old LeBron James, but we have never seen a better 18 year old basketball player. We may not have seen a better 26 year old basketball player.
The moment of LeBron’s first game that has defined the rest of his career the most for me came in the opening minutes of the game. LeBron has put in 10 points, just produced highlight dunk no.1 of his career and has again stolen the ball and is heading down court. Any other 18 year old in the world would have run down and slammed that ball home a second time. Add to that he is extremely tall and athletic making the decision much less difficult. Add to that he has the weight of the world on his shoulders, more pressure on him than any debutant in the history of American professional sports. Add to that…well I need not go on. So what did James do?
He slowed down and looked around for his teammate Ricky Davis who was advancing down court. He laid the ball off to Davis who reverse jammed it home as James ran back down the court to play defence. That idea of camaraderie, of putting the team first and of plain unselfishness has highlighted LeBron James’ distinguished 8 year career. How many times have we seen James give the ball up and put his trust in teammates late in games or even for the last shot. People say his passing ability is the best feature of his game, but it is the attitude he has towards sharing the rock that enables that to be the case. Despite what you may say about the person (regardless of the fact none of us, meaning the media and the fans, actually know the guy), you cannot argue that he is the near perfect player.
However the Cavs lost the game, which also raises a point. James did make some big plays and hit some big shots down the stretch of that first game back in late October of 2003, but he fell short. He should not be blamed as he was clearly the best player on the court for both teams and it was his first game, but he did lose. How many times have we been able to say that? All too many.
His Cleveland years were plagued with a supporting cast that offered him no real hope of winning a title, despite leading them to 125 regular season wins in his last 2 years and a Finals appearance in 2007. In his first season with Miami they managed the third best record in the league, he almost single handedly closed Boston’s window and made the MVP look like the MOP (most overrated player, which I think he is anyway). They made the Finals and he was far less than his normal self and the team lost. He has gone 8 spectacular seasons without a ring. He is still lacking something.
People talk about the idea of the ‘killer instinct’ or the ‘clutch gene’ which is really just lunacy. If someone uses that in an argument against you then my advice is to kick them in the head because it’s holds less worth than a velvet painting of a whale and a dolphin getting it on.
He is more complete than any other player in the league, perhaps ever. He can do more than any other player in the league, perhaps ever. Yet still there is one piece missing. I have no doubt that he will find out what that is and really earn his place amongst NBA royalty.
One final resonation from his first game. His 25 point performance was the highest ever by a player on debut. His efficiency rating was by far the highest ever by a player on debut. He was setting records from day one. He holds many, many more today and he will continue to add more.
The Lockout may rob us of our right to experience LeBron James for another year but have no doubts that he will continue to amaze you just as he did on October 29th, 2003.