LeBron James – Welcome to the show
Madison Square Garden has made many legendary athletes and entertainers feel nervous whenever they stepped into the world’s most famous indoor arena. Muhammad Ali, Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan never knew what would happen when they played there before hard to please audiences. Ali lost to Joe Frazier in their memorable heavyweight contest in the early 1970s, Gretzky’s magic couldn’t win the Stanley Cup for the New York Rangers and Jordan wasn’t always in control when he led the Chicago Bulls against the New York Knicks, but on most nights he had his way.
Rock stars and crooners like Frank Sinatra probably had butterflies because they were never sure how the tough New York crowd would receive them. New York can belittle the best.
But for LeBron James it was different. He walked into the Garden on NBA draft night dressed in a white suit and tie on his first day at the office as if he was set to have an evening out at the clubs and bars around Broadway. Nothing, not even a pro-New York crowd was going to ruin his night.
The 18-year-old knew he was going to be the No. 1 pick and that his team would be the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was a done deal. Jordan, Gretzky and Ali never had that luxury.
James smiled when the cameras focused on him with five minutes on the clock for Cleveland to decide if they would pick him first. They did. No surprise to the several thousand in the theater where the draft was held.
But for James, who already has a $90 million deal with a footwear company and is almost a household name without pulling on a Cleveland jersey or throwing one basket at NBA level, it was still a personal thrill when NBA commissioner David Stern called out his name.
It was official then that this teenager, who decided to bypass college and go straight to work, was the No. 1 pick. Even though he has known for weeks who his employer would be it was still a major step in his life when he heard Stern call out Cleveland.
James was quickly handed a Cavaliers cap to seal the deal and then the round of interviews began. Yes, it was a thrill to be first pick, yes, all the hard work had paid off, yes he would try to lift Cleveland to the top, of course, he would work hard and naturally the Cavs were his first choice all along.
Wait, there was one other question. Someone asked him to compare Cleveland with New York and whether it would be quiet for the new multi millionaire after spending a few days in New York.
James didn’t miss a beat and his answer must have pleased Cleveland’s travel industry. He invited the media to visit Cleveland in a couple months and see that the city would be lit up like Las Vegas.
That sounded like the first challenge from James as the new Cavalier. Change is on the way and he was up front and center defending his city and team. It was a positive sign of things to come.
The popular opinion about James is that he is the real thing even at 18. Players acknowledged he had the goods to run with Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd and Co. Carmelo Anthony, his good buddy and No. 3 pick who went to the Denver Nuggets, agreed that James would be a great player, but also said that he was not necessarily the best player in the draft. Darko Milicic, the second pick chosen by the Detroit Pistons, and Anthony have the credentials to lay claims as the best in this year’s draft. Now it is all speculation. It’s in the books that James is No. 1 and Cleveland has him.
Already, there has been talk that he will be as much an influence with the Cavs that Jordan was with the Bulls. This, too, is speculation. Give the kid a break. The only resemblance between James and Jordan as of now is that he will wear No. 23, the same number Jordan wore with the Bulls and Washington Wizards.
James may also have a rich footwear deal, but he has a lot of catching up in other numbers, like six NBA rings, before he can be compared with Jordan.
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