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Coronation of King James might take a little while

October 30, 2003|by DAN KAUFFMAN

Last night, I did something I've never done before and probably (if not definitely) will never do again.

I taped an NBA game.

You want to know why LeBron James received $90 million from Nike? Because even people who can't stand to watch regular-season NBA basketball will tune in just to see this kid play.

I would have watched James' debut live, but my dad and I had a prior commitment to go watch the awful Washington Capitals play his favorite team of the moment, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

(I say "team of the moment," because my dad and I were both quasi-Capitals fans until he jumped onto the Ducks' bandwagon the second J.S. Giguere became a phenomenon in last season's playoffs. It was like watching Barry Sanders juke some unsuspecting defensive back in the open field. He shook off the Caps so fast, they never knew what hit them. Stunning stuff, coming from my dad. Where was I?)

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I can tell you right now, I have no interest in the Cavaliers. But, like the vast majority of sports fans, I have plenty of interest in watching LeBron either meet everyone's expectations or fall flat on his face trying - even though I'm absolutely sure neither one will happen.

You want to know what's going to happen to LeBron this season? He's going to "struggle" his way to about 18 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and four or five turnovers a night.

Some nights he'll hit for 30, others for 10 or less. He'll have a triple-double, then a triple-single. He'll light up the court with his athleticism and passing skills one night, then throw up about 15 bricks the next.

Just like Kobe Bryant did.

Just like Kevin Garnett did.

The difference, of course, is when Bryant and Garnett challenged the NBA straight out of high school, both received plenty of media attention, but neither was thrust squarely into the spotlight of the NBA's always-running hype machine. There was some guy named Jordan who commanded that kind of attention.

(You know, Jordan? The guy who was bad for the Wizards, who only drew twice as many people to MCI Center as before? Yeah, that guy.)

Now, with all the buzz LeBron created while in high school (he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a junior, for crying out loud), the NBA has no choice but to make this kid the centerpiece of the league.

Which begs the question: How will LeBron handle being called an underachiever when he's averaging 18 points, eight rebounds and seven assists a night?

You know it's going to happen. About, oh, mid-December, LeBron is going to have a couple off-nights, the Cavaliers will drop five or so games under .500, and columnists and talk radio hosts are going to start questioning the kid.

"Was LeBron really as good as he was made out to be?"

"Should Cleveland have taken Carmello Anthony instead?"

"Is King James collapsing under the pressure?"

So, in advance, here are those answers: Yes, No, and do you really think this guy's going home at night thinking, "Gosh, I would have played better had all this attention not been on me."?

Yes, LeBron is good. Really.

Yes, his jumper needs work, but there are a lot of NBA rookies whose jumpers need work.

The kid can jump out of the building, run like a gazelle and passes like no 18-year-old we've seen in a long time.

He's plenty good. But he hasn't played at a level even close to this one, and it takes a season (or two) to fully adjust to the speed, athleticism and physical nature of the league. What King James needs is time.

No offense to Anthony - whose play for Syracuse last season was sublime, even if I still think Gerry McNamara deserved more credit than he ever received - but he's not LeBron. Not athletically, certainly.

Carmelo's going to be a good player in the league, possibly even a 20 points and 10 rebounds guy (and which NBA team doesn't need that?). However, LeBron has a chance to be a 30-10 guy with 10 assists thrown in someday. Easy choice. It's not even that close.

As for all the attention, LeBron's not new to this. In the Cleveland area, he's been a star since he was a sophomore in high school.

He's played pickup ball with Jordan and other pros for three summers now. He's played games on ESPN. He's been on magazine covers and done dozens (if not hundreds) of interviews. He knows how it works, and he knows how to handle it.

When LeBron struggles, it will be because of the players he's against. Period.

King James will be good this year. Not great. that will come in three or four years. You can't rush greatness. But you can watch it develop.

Keep that in mind as you watch the kid this season.




Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at bobp@herald-mail.com

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