LeBron's a proPlays like a veteran in debut with Cavaliers
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The most striking thing about LeBron James was his calmness.
Facially, James always has looked about 10 years older than his actual age. But last night in his first NBA pre-season game, the 18-year-old Cleveland Cavaliers rookie performed with the demeanour of a 10-year veteran.
He was sometimes good, sometimes sloppy. His shooting was poor but his passing was spectacular. He didn't try to do too much, which speaks to his maturity.
His first basket, fittingly, was a breakaway dunk. Before the game was a quarter old, he had muted the surprisingly hostile crowd with a behind-the-back pass and a look-away dish through traffic, setting up easy buckets.
"The behind-the-back pass was my favourite," James said.
Not for a split-second did he appear jittery. He said he felt a lot of butterflies before the game and he may have exposed some nervousness with his shooting stroke, but there was no frustration in his eyes.
All in all, James, the No. 1 pick in the draft, fit in so completely, and seemed so unperturbed by the hoopla, that one couldn't help but be impressed by a kid who mere months ago was in high school.
"I don't think this is that much different, besides not going to class anymore," said James, who amassed eight points on 4-for-12 shooting, seven assists, three rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 26 minutes as the Cavs beat the Detroit Pistons 100-96 before a crowd of 20,862 at the Palace, 2,000 shy of a sellout.
Pistons officials said that had the Cavs been here for a Tuesday pre-season game last year, attendance would have been 3,000.
"It's a tribute to the media," said Pistons coach Larry Brown, who nonetheless was complimentary of James. "Now people can say, 'I saw him play his first game.' It's like how everybody saw the 1980 (U.S.) hockey team win the gold medal. Everybody went to that game now."
With Michael Jordan retired and Kobe Bryant more concerned about being in court than on the court, James may be the most popular player in the NBA. Far-fetched? In a society that values young and new, James could've been elected governor of California had he been on the ballot.
But popularity comes in many forms. James heard a mixture of boos and cheers when he was introduced and the jeers got louder. One courtside fan held a sign that read, "The King of Overhype." Another shouted, "LeBron, your Hummer's ugly," which prompted James to laugh.
Media from coast to coast were on hand, too, making for a playoff atmoshpere. But James faces a playoff atmosphere every time he rolls out of bed. "This is standard," he said. "Every day, all day ... this isn't hard for me. God put me on this earth to carry out a legacy, so that's what I'm trying to do."
James played the entire first quarter and the first minute of the second, mostly at shooting guard, before getting pulled for former Raptor Michael Stewart (trivia for future years). James sat out till the end of the half and some fans started yelling at Cavs coach Paul Silas.
"I came to see LeBron, not you, Silas," one man screamed. "Then go home," Silas shot back. "I don't want to go home --I paid $96 (US)," the fan replied.
James played point guard with increasing confidence for the bulk of his 13 second-half minutes.
"In the first half it seemed like the court was smaller," James said. "And then it just opened up."
Pistons bruiser Ben Wallace knocked James down on one occasion in the third quarter, but had another no-look pass, too, this one of the touch variety.
Pistons rookie Darko Milicic, the No. 2 pick in the draft, amassed five points and five rebounds in 19 minutes.
Back when Vince Carter was the talk of the NBA and travelling with the Raptors was like being with the Beatles in 1964, Carter enjoyed the attention but squirmed from the responsibility. James, conversely, is comfortable in front of scribes and cameras.
"He's humble, but he has that confidence about him, that swagger," Silas said. "He knows he's special and he's out to prove it."