It wasn’t all sunshine and roses for LeBron James when he entered the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003.
Although the former No. 1 overall pick was finally getting a chance to realize his basketball dreams, the opportunity didn’t come without an immense amount of pressure — and perhaps even some hazing from his veteran teammates.
According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, there were times when Paul Silas — Cleveland’s head coach at the time — had to step in and project James like a father figure.
“LeBron James was experiencing a big moment, and his veteran teammates wanted to make it memorable, it being his first NBA game and all,” wrote Windhorst.
“So they asked the 18-year-old rookie if he would take the honor of leading the Cleveland Cavaliers onto the floor for the preseason opener at the Palace of Auburn Hills that early October night in 2003.
“James proudly ran out and got ready to start warmups before suddenly realizing he was by himself, a still sparse crowd looking at him awkwardly. Back in the tunnel, his teammates were roaring with laughter. Naïve and embarrassed, James could only shake his head at the joke.
“Twenty years later to the week, there was no such hazing for San Antonio Spurs prized rookie Victor Wembanyama when he took an NBA court for the first time earlier this month in Oklahoma City.
“His teammates have spoken of Wembanyama in recent weeks not like a kid brother — which is how the Cavs handled James to the point that then-coach Paul Silas occasionally had to step in to defend him like a father figure in the early days — but with a certain amount of awe. Things have changed, it seems, for phenom teenage rookies.”
Regardless of the circumstances, James made the most of his rookie season — and entire first stint — with the Cavs.
In his first season, the phenom averaged 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game en route to winning Rookie of the Year honors. Today, his rookie year stands as his only NBA season without an All-Star nod.
Over seven seasons with the Cavs during his first stint with the organization, James averaged 27.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game. He won two MVP awards and earned six All-Star bids during the span.
His success continued after his infamous move to the Miami Heat, where he won his first two NBA titles. Fortunately, he fell back into favor with Cavs fans later on after returning to Cleveland and delivering the city its first NBA title in 2016.
These days, James — who won his fourth NBA title in 2020 with the Los Angeles Lakers — is the oldest player in the league, a far cry from the position he was in as a rookie with the Cavs.
His Lakers are preparing for the 2023-24 campaign and seemingly have a chance to make some noise in the Western Conference after making a deep playoff run last season and having a productive offseason. The Cavs, meanwhile, are looking to turn some heads in the Eastern Conference after their disappointing exit from last season’s playoffs.
Los Angeles and Cleveland will play twice in the upcoming regular season, giving Cavs fans a chance to see James in action against his former team once again.