SACRAMENTO, Calif. - LeBrilliant - except for the result.
LeBron James more than lived up to his hype in the first regular-season game of his NBA career, playing like no other 18-year-old ever had in his professional debut as the Cleveland Cavaliers lost 106-92 Wednesday night to the Sacramento Kings.
James had 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals, mesmerizing one of the league's loudest crowds with skills no teenager had ever displayed at this level.
"I think that was LeBron's statement to the league that he's here. He's for real," said James' agent, Aaron Goodwin.
James' point total was by far the most by any prep-to-pro rookie since Kobe Bryant made the jump in 1996, eclipsing the 10 points scored by both Jonathan Bender of Indiana in his 1999 debut and Amare Stoudemire of Phoenix last year.
In fact, James' 25 eclipsed the combined totals of Bryant (no points), Jermaine O'Neal (two), Kwame Brown (two), Eddy Curry (two), Tyson Chandler (one), Kevin Garnett (eight) and Tracy McGrady (none) in their professional debuts.
"They've had great careers already," James said. "I'm just going to try to do the best I can."
That he did, leading the Cavaliers back from an early 19-point deficit and giving Cleveland its first lead by feeding J.R. Bremer for a 3-pointer that made it 85-83 with 10:05 left in the fourth. That, however, would be James' last assist, and Sacramento regained control with a 6-0 run.
The Cavaliers never made a game of it down the stretch, and James capped his night by shooting an airball from 3-point range just before the final buzzer, drawing taunts from the fans.
Those taunts, however, were only halfhearted. James had entertained the fans too much to be treated too shabbily.
"It was the first I've seen of him, and I was real impressed. He's the real deal," Sacramento center Vlade Divac said.
"He's a talent. Look at how he plays. The best thing about him is how he distributes the ball. He does it extremely well," Kings guard Bobby Jackson said.
Peja Stojakovic led Sacramento with 22 points, Mike Bibby had 19 and Divac added 18.
Juneau-Douglas High School alum Carlos Boozer started for the Cavaliers; he scored 14 points, grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds and had four blocked shots in 39 minutes of play.
Though the Cavaliers often were uncreative running their halfcourt offense, James made things happen whenever he was moving with the ball - using his first step to get around defenders and initiate action.
He momentarily lost control of his dribble in the third quarter, causing Doug Christie to lunge at him in an attempt for a steal. James deftly recovered and moved quickly into the lane, finding Darius Miles along the baseline for an alley-oop dunk.
James' best stretch of the third quarter included a high-arcing bank over Divac on a 1-on-3 break, followed by a left handed finger-roll from 5 feet away in the lane.
As impressive as that stretch was, it was equaled by what James did right from the get-go.
Just 88 seconds into the game, James earned his first professional assist on an alley-oop pass to Ricky Davis for a dunk. His first shot was a 12-footer from the right corner that swished and was followed by an identical shot from the opposite corner.
Next came the jumper of the night, James twisting and releasing a shot simultaneously from a tough angle in the right corner over the outstretched arm of 7-footer Brad Miller. Swish again.
"He obviously was good tonight. He's got a lot of talent. He gets to the basket, he sees the floor. For the first game, you had to be impressed," Kings coach Rick Adelman said.
James finished the first quarter with a lookaway pass on the fast break for a dunk by Boozer, along with a dunk of his own following a steal. James had a chance moments later for another breakaway dunk, but he unselfishly underhanded the ball to Davis and let someone else throw down something for the highlight reel.
James ended the quarter 6-for-10 from the field with three assists and two rebounds. He was 12-for-20 from the field for the game following a preseason in which he struggled with his shooting touch.
"Coach Silas told me not to start too early. I like criticism. It makes you strong," James said.
Though James did not attempt a shot in the second quarter, there was a buzz in Arco Arena at halftime - and it had almost nothing to do with the Kings' exceptional play.
"That was Mike-like," one fan said of James' third jumper.
"That steal and dunk, I can't believe I had my head down and missed it," one Kings employee bemoaned.
There would be more in store for them and for everyone else who watched the second half, and there's no doubt that James will be doing this again in the future. He was worthy of the hype, no question, and the hype won't stop if James plays this way every night.
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