SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The NBA’s Premiere Week, also known as the Dysfunction and Hype Tour, continued as a national press corps left Los Angeles, where it gathered to cover the Laker wars before flying here for young LeBron James’ debut.
The Lakers went for each other’s throats right on schedule. However, in a surprise, despite the biggest buildup ever given a rookie, much less one just out of high school, James lived up to his billing, scoring 25 points Wednesday night, leading his Cleveland Cavaliers from 19 points behind into a fourth-quarter lead before they finally lost, 106-92, to the Sacramento Kings.
The first rising prep to start his rookie opener since Moses Malone, James made 12 of 20 shots with nine assists, six rebounds and four steals. Starting at point guard, he had only two turnovers, one on a charging foul.
“Whew, I liked him a lot,” the Kings’ Bobby Jackson said. “He had a lot of pressure on him, and he came out tonight and showed the world what he can do. I can see what the media is so ecstatic about.”
Said James: “For all you who think I can’t shoot, thank you a lot.”
The atmosphere was so insane, you could have bottled it. The NBA’s Web site billed it as “King James vs. the Kings.” ESPN televised it, cutting away from its early game when Orlando and New York went into overtime, in violation of network practice since the famous “Heidi” game of 1968.
This came after days of commercials that starred James.
Nike flew him here before camp and spent two days on its spot, which also featured the Kings’ Mike Bibby, former great George Gervin, actor Damon Wayans, and King announcers Jerry Reynolds and Grant Napear.
Of course, Reynolds, who is also the Kings’ personnel director, once complained about scouting high school players, promising that as soon as they told him he had to start checking out junior highs, he was gone.
“No question, I’ve totally sold out,” Reynolds said. “What small level of pride I used to have is all gone. I fully assume I’ll be scouting junior high kids pretty soon.”
Expectations notwithstanding, James struggled early in the preseason, averaging eight points and shooting 33 percent for his first three exhibitions.
However he seems to be getting the knack of this, rapidly.
“Well, his first few exhibition games weren’t stellar by any means,” Cleveland coach Paul Silas said. “I wondered how he was going to accept that, you know, seven points and six rebounds or whatever. But in practice, he worked even harder and that was the whole key.
”But it’s like anything. People think he’s played this game, so what’s the problem?
“He’s in the pros now.”
Of course, this was the night James had dreamed of and, in typical fashion, he promised to “go out on this court and just showcase some of my talent, my teammates’ talents and showcase that we’re supposed to be here.”
“The Cleveland Cavs are a new team, and we’re going to show it tonight.”
Maybe they’re a little too new.
Dazzled by the Kings’ slick interior passing, the Cavaliers fell behind by 19. Then, however, when everyone thought they were up past their bedtime, they rallied to go up by two in the fourth quarter before the Kings counter-rallied.
“I think he’s going to be great, I really do,” Reynolds said of James. “Honestly, I think he’s a better high school player than Magic Johnson was. That’s who I compare him the most to. I think his natural feel of the game, body size, strength .”Now, Magic came in the league at 20 after two years of college, with Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar). “People can say, `Well, he can’t shoot,’ and all that. Well, neither could Magic at 18 years old.”
Johnson had 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists in his debut. James isn’t Magic yet, but he looks like he’s going to be someone.