Lakers’ LeBron James returns to Sacramento 20 years after making NBA debut – Orange County Register

LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket during the second quarter against Kevin Huerter of the Sacramento Kings at Golden One Center in Sacramento, California on October 29, 2023. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

SACRAMENTO — When LeBron James steps onto the court for the Lakers’ road game Sunday against the Sacramento Kings at Golden One Center, it will mark the 20th anniversary of his NBA debut in the same city.

James was only 18 years old from Akron, Ohio. When he entered the NBA, he was arguably the most talked-about rising star in NBA history. As a 17-year-old high school student, he appeared in Sports Illustrated’s “The Chosen One” cover story.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham, then a forward with the Detroit Pistons, remembers the hype around James’ first NBA game with the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Kings at the now-demolished ARCO Arena , just 6 miles from the center of Golden 1.

“It’s unbelievable,” Hamm said. “It was a nationally televised game. He came out and played well. Really well. So it’s been an amazing time. Man, the journey since then has been amazing. At such a young age for him. At that time, all the basketball, hype and expectations were placed on him.

“He’s not just going to outdo them, he’s going to create a whole new world. His all-encompassing, ten-fold super-powerful ‘LeBron James world’ has exceeded everyone’s expectations. “It’s great to see him still here competing at a high level. the match of. “

James, who enters his 21st season in the NBA on Sunday, is averaging 21 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 1.5 steals and 1 block per game.

He remains the focal point of the Lakers’ success and roster-building — something unprecedented for a player at this stage of his career.

“Rarely do you see someone come into this league with such high expectations and not only match it but completely break the mold and take it to a higher ceiling and if there’s a ceiling to what he’s been able to do, “Ham said. “A guy who has delivered on all his obligations in terms of producing, hyping and winning. Just done it all – and continues to do that. So I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of his journey and look forward to a lot of success with him .”

In a loss to the Kings on Oct. 29, 2003, James had 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals — the first sign that he was living up to all the hype he received as a high school student. .

Exactly 20 years later, James returned to Sacramento with 38,669 regular season points, becoming the scoring leader in NBA history and one of the league’s most accomplished players.

Kings head coach Mike Brown, who coached James with the Cavaliers from 2005-10, said James’ achievements off the court deserve as much attention as his performance on the court.

“As far as being around him, he gets a lot of credit for what he does on the field, but I think his time off the field should be recognized as much as what he does on the field,” Brown said. “It’s been a phenomenal career so far. Longevity. And then everything else that comes with it.

“But his off-field achievements, the lives he touched and the lives of the people he touched are underappreciated. “I stress that when talking about him because, in my opinion, yes, the performance on the field That makes him special, and that’s fine, but his greatness off the court could put him in another category on his own. “

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