- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

ORLANDO, Fla. — LeBron James dominated the competition to the delight of his audience, then eyeballed the scoreboard for his own satisfaction.

With 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists last night, the most talked-about high school draft pick in NBA history thrilled a huge crowd that waited several hours to see him make his pro basketball debut.

But he said what he’ll remember most is the outcome of this summer league game: Cleveland Cavaliers 107, Orlando Magic 80.

“Victory,” James said. “Victory, and just stepping on an NBA court for the first time. I know last year [Cleveland] didn’t get too many victories, and I’m happy to give them a victory with me running the point.”

Playing 23 minutes of a 40-minute game, James was 5-for-11 — despite missing three 3-point tries — from the floor and converted all four of his free throws. He had three turnovers while running Cleveland’s offense.

He sat out all the third quarter, icing his right leg after sustaining a bruise. He said his status is day-to-day.

James’ game showed little rust although it was his first competition since late March, when he led St. Vincent-St. Mary High School to its third Ohio state championship of his prep career. A little more than three months later, the 18-year-old James is worth about $100million, thanks to endorsement deals and, to a far lesser extent, his NBA contract.

In the first three minutes, James had a wicked one-handed dunk after stealing a pass under the basket, sank a reverse layup and tossed a no-look feed in the paint that DeSagana Diop converted into a short jump hook. James later wowed the crowd of 15,123 with a reverse layup while falling down.

As the quarter came to a close, he scored another four points in transition: two free throws and a jumper for a 31-15 lead. For the period, he had 10 points, four rebounds and three assists.

“I was just trying to go with the flow,” James said. “Whatever was working for us, just keep doing it.”

There were only three lowlights: In the first quarter, he airballed a 3-pointer as the shot clock wound down, and a late defensive rotation left his man open for a baseline jumper. But the worst came early in the third period, when James threw a lazy outlet pass that was picked off by Britton Johnsen, who promptly dunked on his highly hyped opponent.

“What you all don’t know is that I get dunked on a lot in practice,” James said.

The Cavaliers, who selected the 18-year-old James No.1 overall in last month’s NBA Draft, have every reason to believe that he will quickly mesh with his teammates.

Playing in Orlando’s summer league are three-fifths of the Cavaliers’ projected starting lineup: James at point guard, small forward Darius Miles and power forward Carlos Boozer. It was that unit, plus shooting guard Dajuan Wagner and center Diop, that raced out to a 16-point first-quarter advantage, giving Cleveland a lead that was never threatened by the overmatched Magic.

“If I’m a point guard, I’m going to put this team on my back because this all starts with me,” James said. “Whatever they need me to do, whether that’s rebound, assist or score a couple of buckets, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Miles and Boozer scored 15 points apiece, tying for the team lead.

“It was nice to get out there and run with him,” Miles said. “The fans got their first look at what this team can become.”

James’ presence added an unprecedented buzz to the summer league game. Such contests are usually informal affairs held in dimly lit gyms with scouts and coaches among the most interested spectators. But this game was played at the Magic’s home arena, the 17,283-seat T.D. Waterhouse Centre, rather than the team’s practice facility. Fans jumped at the chance to see the league’s newest star attraction, and there were plenty of pros also gawking at James.

In the crowd were NBA players Drew Gooden, Chucky Atkins, Jason Williams, Amare Stoudemire and Steven Hunter, and NFL quarterback Daunte Culpepper.

Before the game, $5 tickets were being scalped for $80, and a traffic jam developed around the arena five hours before the opening tip.

“He’s exciting to watch,” said Paige Berger of Albany, N.Y. “He’s got the skills of Magic [Johnson] and [Michael] Jordan combined.”

The interest spread to the media, as well. The Magic issued about 170 credentials, about the same as for a playoff game or a visit by the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I like playing in front of big crowds,” James said. “I think I play a lot better. My teammates like it, too. I keep telling them, my crowds [in high school] were bigger than the Cavs’ crowds last year.”

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