With Michael Jordan’s final retirement following the 2002 NBA season, the NBA desperately needed someone to fill the void of having a mega star. Sure, Kobe Bryant and Shaq were entertaining on the Lakers, but they hadn’t been at the level of Jordan.
Leading into the 2003 NBA Draft there was quite the buzz around LeBron James coming out of high school. Drafting a high school player is a risk, but sometimes it works out great. Kevin Garnett and Kobe had Hall of Fame careers while Kwame Brown is a forgotten name amongst NBA fans. Ironically, Jordan drafted Kwame for the Wizards.
Luckily for the Cleveland Cavaliers they were bad enough to secure the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft and they drafted their hometown kid, LeBron James. In this series, I’ll be looking at the rise of LeBron through the years. Did he carry the Cavs as it is often stated, or did he at least some help? We’ll find out soon enough.
Entering the 2003 season, the Cavs don’t have a lot of talent. Carlos Boozer is entering his second year and will be the starting power forward. Zydrunas Ilgauskas has been arguably the face of the franchise at the center position, but he’s been battling foot issues since the start of his career. Ricky Davis returns as the shooting guard and averaged twenty points a game the previous year. Darius Miles fills out the starting five at the small forward position.
As for the Cavs bench… there’s really nobody of note to start the season, at least. JR Bremer, Chris Mihm, Kevin Ollie, DeSagana Diop and rookie Jason Kapono look to provide some points off the bench.
LeBron’s first game wouldn’t be an easy one by any means. The Sacramento Kings were regular contenders in the Western Conference with a stacked team with plenty of depth led by Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac. Webber wouldn’t be healthy to start the year dealing with a knee injury. Regardless, the Cavs have quite the challenge to start the year.
October 29th, 2003 – Sacramento, CA – Arco Arena
Big Z gets fed the ball on the first possession, but Divac closes him off leading to a travel. Kings showcase some great ball movement leading to an open three by Peja. Cavs giving the ball to Z on the second trip down the court and he misses a shot in the post. Z manages to block a Doug Christie shot and the Cavs run down the court leading to LeBron’s first ever assist to Ricky Davis on a dunk.
Ricky Davis is going to like playing with LeBron.
Divac responds with a layup following a pass from Peja to give the Kings a 5-2 lead in the opening two minutes of the game. Davis misses a turnaround shot and the Kings quickly bring the ball up the court. Bibby cuts through the paint and dishes to Christie for a bucket. Boozer makes his first bucket after a pass from Miles. Peja misses a deep three and LeBron makes his first shot.
The first of many for LeBron.
Miller gets an offensive rebound allowing Bibby to get an easy layup. Boozer responds with a close range bucket. Bibby drains a midrange jumper to give the Kings an 11-8 lead. LeBron drains a jumper on the baseline, but the Divac finishes a layup after a Bibby pass. Divac finishes a three point play. LeBron hits an off balance shot on the baseline over Miller getting a reaction from the crowd. Bibby hits his third shot of the evening. Christie is able to block a pass by LeBron and finishes a dunk on the other end.
Kings making it look easy.
Miles makes a contested layup, but Divac makes a great pass to Peja for a layup. Bibby gets a steal and dives into the crowd before passing to Peja for another layup. That leads to a timeout for the young Cavs team. Peja wastes no time getting another layup. LeBron runs down the court to finish with a layup. Peja drains a corner three. LeBron forces a three and misses badly. Christie gets past a poor double team attempt for another layup. Bibby dishes the ball to Miller on a fast break for an easy dunk. Kings lead 31-17.
A fast break and another dunk for the Kings.
Z hits an outside jumper. LeBron showcases his passing skills leading to a Boozer dunk. LeBron gets a steal and a dunk. Cavs get another steal and LeBron assists to Davis on an easy dunk. That sequence brings the score to 31-25.
LeBron with a nice dish to Boozer.
LeBron doing LeBron things.
Ricky Davis showing off his dunking skills.
Tony Massenger makes a nice pass to Peja for another layup. LeBron misses a midrange shot, but got his own rebound to make a bucket. Boozer makes a poor attempt to finishing in the paint and that leads to another layup by the Kings as Divac made a great pass to Bobby Jackson. Boozer manages to block Jackson on a backcourt cut. JR Breamer drains an open three to bring the deficit to five. Divac finishes the first quarter with a midrange shot and LeBron misses a full court shot. Kings lead after the first quarter 39-32.
That was honestly an incredible quarter of basketball. The Kings look like a title contender with their excellent ball movement and domination in the paint. Divac is an underrated big man as he showcased some excellent passes for numerous easy layups. LeBron is living up to the hype as he’s already showcasing that he can takeover the game for periods of time. There were several possessions where LeBron led the Cavs on scoring possessions and got his teammates involved. LeBron, who is fresh out of high school, finished with twelve points and three assists in the first twelve minutes of his NBA career against a star studded Kings team. That deserves praise.
Cavs get a quick steal to start the second quarter. Breamer misses a jump shot failing to take advantage. LeBron almost gets a breakaway off a steal, but can’t keep the ball in-bounds. Peja drains a jumper over LeBron. Boozer misses his trademark fadeaway on the baseline. Jackson misses a three point shot as the Cavs are using their second unit. Jackson steals the ball for an easy layup on the other end. Diop struggles in the paint and likely traveled. However, Mihm is able to get an offensive rebound and makes a close range shot. Diop gets a nice pass from Miles for a dunk.
Everyone get in on the dunking!
Bibby drains a long range jumper to keep the lead at nine, 45-36. Bibby comes back down on the next possession to make another jumper. Cavs are shooting cold from the filed without their starters in the game. Kings bring the lead to thirteen after a made basket by Miller. Mihm blocks a drive by Gerald Wallace, but a foul is called.
LeBron is back in the game and gets his second foul after preventing a fast break by Jackson. Jackson drains a midrange basket to bring the lead to sixteen, 52-36. LeBron dishes the ball to Mihm for an easy close range basket. LeBron is fouled by Wallace on a drive to the basket. Miles misses a midrange basket attempt but the Cavs are able to stop the Kings on the other end. Mihm can’t make an open shot. Christie gets clubbed in the paint, but a foul is called on the Kings.
Z is stopped in the paint by several Kings leading to an easy layup by Peja after a Miller pass. Christie drains a jumper to bring the lead to eighteen points, 56-38. Z can’t make an open shot on the baseline. Divac misses a hook shot leading to Ricky Davis making a shot on the other end for the Cavs. Christie misses a shot, but the Cavs don’t block out allowing Miller to make an easy put back. Divac makes a great pass to Christie leading to a dunk on LeBron.
Christie is not afraid.
LeBron makes a nice pass to Z, who finishes a dunk on a second try after a block. Breamer makes a three point basket to cut the deficit to fourteen, 61-47. Breamer makes another bucket on the next possession. Miller gets an offensive rebound after a Christie miss for an easy bucket. Breamer makes another three point shot in the corner after a Davis pass. Bibby responds with a layup to have a thirteen point lead at half, 65-52.
RJ Breamer looks to be the only viable bench player for the Cavs as he’s been able to make some big shots to keep the Cavs in the game to close the first half. For as big of a first quarter LeBron had he had an equally non-existent second quarter as he didn’t attempt a shot in the quarter and made a few defensive mistakes on Christie leading to easy layups. The Kings are a far better team with their fantastic passing in the paint that the Cavs don’t have an answer for. The third quarter will be very important for whether the Cavs can pull off an upset. The starters for the Cavs will have to over perform to keep them in the game because the bench can’t keep up with the Kings bench. LeBron is going to have to maintain his offensive intensity that he showed in the first quarter, as well.
Divac misses a midrange shot to start the third quarter. LeBron makes a running shot in the paint to cut the lead to eleven, 65-54. Divac gets a lucky bounce to make a bucket. Z gets called for an offensive foul in the paint. Boozer can’t make a layup leading to Bibby making an impressive reverse layup. LeBron makes his second shot attempt in the quarter to match buckets with the Kings. LeBron proceeds to make a left handed basket to make three shots in a row. Divac finishes a close range shot following a pass by Bibby.
LeBron tosses the ball into the air for Davis to finish a dunk and has seven assists. Miles tries for a fast break layup off a miss, but is easily blocked. Boozer manages to make the possession worthwhile making a bucket. Christie drains a basket to keep the lead at eleven, 73-62. Davis makes a midrange shot after a Miles pass.
Both teams fail to score on a couple of possessions. Cavs get a turnover on Divac, who had missed an easy pass in the paint. Davis makes a jumper to cut the lead to nine, 75-66. Boozer makes a bad pass allowing for Peja to make an easy layup. Davis airballs a shot, but the Kings can’t make them pay as Peja missed a long range shot. Miller tries for a dunk, but Miles prevents that with a block, but is called for a foul.
Z makes two free throws after being fouled in the paint. Bibby makes a nice cut to the basket, but misses a layup. Breaner misses a three point shot, but Boozer gets the offensive rebound to make a bucket. LeBron finds an open Breaner in the corner for a wide open three point shot to cut the lead to eight, 81-73. Bibby drains a jumper. The Cavs have a horrible possession making poor passes, but Christie fouls LeBron on a wild shot attempt. LeBron only makes one of three free throws. Breamer makes a nice pass to Boozer to finish with a dunk.
LeBron and Boozer could be a fun duo.
Christie misses a bad three point shot attempt. Davis finds Boozer for a bucket in the paint. James blocks Christie driving to the basket and the quarter ends with Peja missing a jumper.
The fact that the Cavs cut the lead to five points entering the fourth quarter is a accomplishment. I’m surprised that the Kings have veered away from the ball movement that was very effective throughout the first half. If the Cavs didn’t make a couple of bonehead plays, like the poor Boozer pass, this game is likely one possession going into the fourth quarter. Despite that, this has been a shocking performance by the Cavs against a top tier Western Conference team.
Davis makes a jumper to start the fourth quarter and make the game one possession difference. Breamer is starting the fourth quarter as the Cavs will need his scoring. Diop with a nice block leading to a LeBron layup. Cavs prevent the Kings in the paint and Breamer hits a three point shot in the corner to take a two point lead, 85-83! Jackson misses a three point shot. Davis makes a sloppy pass allowing for Jackson to make an easy layup on the opposite side. LeBron didn’t do well getting back on defense. Jackson makes another bucket to take a two point lead, 87-85.
Cavs energy has greatly decreased since they had a brief lead and the Kings came storming back. LeBron makes a jump shot to keep the game at one possession difference. Cavs can’t get a defensive rebound, but Divac is called for an offensive foul after throwing an elbow at LeBron on a loose ball. Cavs turn the ball over following a moving screen by Z.
Jackson drains a jumper from eighteen feet. LeBron misses a jump shot response. Sean Elliot notes that LeBron should be driving towards the paint instead of settling for jump shots. LeBron is taking a breather with seven minutes left in the game. Davis misses a jump shot. Divac makes a basket in the paint to bring the lead to six, 93-87. Breamer makes a three point shot to bring the lead back to three. Jackson responds with a jumper on the Kings next possession.
LeBron comes back into the game at five minutes and twenty-three seconds remaining in the game. Miller misses a wide open shot, but gets the offensive rebounding leading to a Divac basket. Boozer misses a close range shot attempt, but the Kings turn the ball over on their possession. LeBron finally drives to the basket and easily finishes a layup. Diop battles Divac in the paint and pokes the ball away, but is called for a reach in foul.
Davis takes a bad shot and the Cavs foul on the other end allowing Divac to go to the line. Divac makes one of two from the line to give the Kings an eight point lead, 100-92. LeBron makes a move in the pain to dish the ball to Boozer, but is called for a foul. Miller tries to score on a drive, but Boozer makes the stop. Davis turns the ball over trying to make a move to the basket. Miller finishes a basket after getting his own rebound. Breamer misses a three point shot and time is running out on their chances to prevail on opening night. Miller drains a jumper.
Boozer misses a close range shot and the Cavs are down by twelve with under a minute left. Bibby gets fouled on a jump shot by Breamer and makes two free throws. Davis runs up the court and turns the ball over after being sloppy. LeBron makes a pass to Boozer, but it goes out of bounds off of Boozer’s hands. Peja misses a deep three and LeBron airballs a three to end his first career game. That doesn’t matter since the game was over with. Kings win 106-92.
First off, Sean Elliot is terrific at providing commentary and pointed out a lot of ways for LeBron to improve over time. LeBron really didn’t drive to the paint despite being considerably bigger than Bibby and likely could have added a lot of more points from the line. The Cavs held a lead in the fourth quarter, but they got a little sloppy and the momentum quickly shifted back to the experienced Kings squad. The Kings have way too many weapons for the Cavs to have prevailed here and that was without Chris Webber. I’m baffled that the Kings didn’t win the NBA Finals with this roster.
All things considered, this has to be seen as a positive debut for LeBron. His first quarter was the best showcase of his skills and a sample of what we’d see for many years to come. It will be a lot of fun to see how the Cavs grow as a team during the year.
LeBron James 25PTS, 6RBS, 9AST, 4STLS
JR Bremer 20PTS, 63PTS
Carlos Boozer 14PTS, 11RBS, 4BLKS
Peja Stojakovic 22PTS, 7RBS, 4AST
Mike Bibby 19PTS, 9RBS, 4AST
Vlade Divac 18PTS, 7RBS, 4AST, 4BLKS