A vision in white
by Bruce Meyer / June 28, 2003
On his way to Madison Square Garden for the NBA draft, LeBron James had to deal with more than a few distractions.
Ever since the NBA draft lottery five weeks ago when it became pre-determined that he would join his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, James has graduated from St. Vincent St. Mary high school in Akron; appeared on numerous media outlets, including an interview with Bob Costas on HBO and a half-hour episode of "The Life" on ESPN; signed a deal to get his official website up and running at www.lebronjames.com; had a photo shoot with GQ; and helped ring the bell to open trading one day on the New York Stock Exchange.
Of course, it's clear that King James -- one of his many monikers -- has been looking forward to this time (including the hype) for much of his life. "Everything that's happened to me in the past few weeks have been the track I've wanted to be on: being part of the Cavalier family and being part of Nike," LeBron said the afternoon after the draft back in Cleveland.
He spoke with the media before, of course, making another public appearance as he threw out the first pitch before the game between the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds. And his presence must have rubbed off on the Tribe, who took a rare win with a shutout over their Ohio rival.
"I feel like last night (the draft) was like a relief because the hard work I've been putting in for the last few years finally paid off," LeBron said. "I have been exhausted, but I chose this life to play basketball and last night was the payoff."
Even the handshake with Stern was something LeBron will cherish for life. "That moment was a dream come true," he said. "Now, I've known I was gonna be the first pick. I knew I was gonna put on the Cavs hat. But to shake David Stern's hand, the commissioner of the NBA, was what I always dreamed about. When I was little it didn't really matter which team I went to. I just wanted to get up there and shake his hand. And the dream came true, and it was even better because I get to stay in my hometown."
But now that the Cavs have officially taken him as the top pick in the NBA draft. And with the logistics of his contract mandated by the league's collective bargaining agreement, LeBron can get down to business and play some ball. It's been more than three months since he's played a competitive game, and there's no doubt he's tired of solitary workouts and ready to hit the hardwood again. The first stop will be the upcoming summer leagues.
"I'm ready to get on any court right now. I haven't played any competition against anybody right now for 3½ months, which is kind of strange for me," said James, who is used to playing in AAU tournaments once school ends.
LeBron has a good idea of what will be expected of him. "I think the Cleveland Cavaliers just expect me to come in and just try to get the team better as a unit both on the court and off the court."
But don't look for LeBron to go in and start telling his teammates what to do right away. After all, he knows he will still have to pay his dues as a rookie. "Until they let me know I'm the leader of the team I'm not going to say anything. I'm just gonna take in everything." He said he will wait for the game where they tell him, "You're our leader. You need to take over." And that's when LeBron said he will start talking. "Until then, I'm gonna keep my mouth closed and lead by example."
CAVS ON THE RISE
While LeBron has waited for this his entire life, it just seems that way for Cavs fans and management. Most of the talk during the past season revolved around whether or not the team would finally see luck fall its way and land King James with the top pick. The draft night party at Gund Arena drew more than 10,000 fans, a larger crowd than many of the team's games last year. There's even talk that some of their summer league games will be on ESPN, after the team was shut out of national telecasts this past season.
But now none of the past struggles matter. The Cavs have their savior in James, they have a new coach in Paul Silas, and, most of all, they have hope. And Silas, who hasn't had much chance yet to talk to LeBron, can't wait to get started.
"He has a passion for the game," Silas said. "I haven't seen anyone who just wants to get out there and 'hoop' as we call it. So it's just gonna be exciting to see him develop. I think he's gonna handle things very well. The expectations of everyone else, as he says, are probably a lot greater than what ours are at this point. He's got a lot of growing to do. He's gonna have some ups and downs, but cream always rises, and I think he's got a lot of that."
The new Cavs coach thinks LeBron can play at any of four positions, but they'll figure that out as things go along. For now, he wants James to work on his overall game and pay particular attention to his long-range shot. But thus far Silas says he's never seen anyone like LeBron at such a young age. "Especially with the poise that he has," the coach said. "There's been so much thrown at him so fast, and how he handles it. He just remains humble, says the right things, doesn't get into confrontations. The guy is about who's the best, and that just bodes well for him. As he moves into training camp I think everyone is just gonna welcome him with open arms."
Cavs GM Jim Paxson said he's been most impressed about how LeBron has handled all the attention. "The NBA asked him to do like 800 things this week," Paxson said, only half-kidding. "It's exciting and we're all trying to promote and that. He wants to get out on the floor and start playing because that's why all this (hype) is happening; it's what he can do potentially on the floor."
Paxson's biggest concern is demands on LeBron's time for other things outside of basketball. "But he's got good support around him and he should enjoy everything that's happening now, because it's only gonna happen once," Paxson said. "Now it's time to get to business. There will be scrutiny. But the bottom line is he's got to know that within our organization, our family, our team that we support him and I believe that in time he's got a chance to be a great player. So we want to do everything we can to help him."
The Cavs will now enter a new realm of expectations, according to Paxson. "We've got a lot of work to do," he said. "We come off a season with 17 wins. I felt our talent level was a little better than that, but we weren't a team. Now we've got to put the right pieces in place. The exciting part is I think we have a chance to make a big jump in wins, and winning is going to be an expectation. But we have the flexibility over the next few years to have the ability to add to this roster and tweak it, and with this kid as a potential cornerstone, it's a great luxury to have right now."
Bruce Meyer is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
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