LEBRON JAMES WAS experiencing an enormous second, and his veteran teammates wished to make it memorable, it being his first NBA sport and all.
In order that they requested the 18-year-old rookie if he would take the honour of main the Cleveland Cavaliers onto the ground for the preseason opener on the Palace of Auburn Hills that early October evening in 2003.
James proudly ran out and obtained prepared to begin warmups earlier than abruptly realizing he was by himself, a nonetheless sparse crowd him awkwardly. Again within the tunnel, his teammates have been roaring with laughter. Naïve and embarrassed, James might solely shake his head on 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 docket for the primary time earlier this month in Oklahoma Metropolis.
His teammates have spoken of Wembanyama in latest weeks not like a child brother — which is how the Cavs dealt with James to the purpose that then-coach Paul Silas sometimes needed to step in to defend him like a father determine within the early days — however with a specific amount of awe. Issues have modified, it appears, for phenom teenage rookies.
“I believe he is only a freak of nature, it is not a traditional factor to see,” Spurs ahead Jeremy Sochan mentioned. “I am right here to assist him.”
“The times of treating [rookies] the identical,” veteran Spurs coach Gregg Popovich mentioned, “left us way back.”
COMPARISONS BETWEEN JAMES and Wembanyama are irresistible due to the hype surrounding the 2 No. 1 total picks drafted 20 years aside.
James was a Sports Illustrated cover subject in 2002 as a highschool junior, then entered the NBA with a $90 million Nike contract and “The Chosen One” moniker simply as Michael Jordan left. Wembanyama is a social media phenomenon whose jaw-dropping mix of ability and dimension is likely to be unprecedented and who fortunately basks in his “alien” nickname, mockingly given to him by James.
Wemby excited for first regular-season sport
Victor Wembanyama sits down with Malika Andrews to debate his preseason and expectations for the beginning of the common season.
They’re seen as being the identical kind of can’t-miss prospects by scouts, executives and media. Each have been internationally well-known earlier than entering into the league even with out faculty basketball to amplify them.
It is easy to neglect James did not arrive within the NBA absolutely shaped in 2003. He had some since long-forgotten tough moments in his first weeks as a professional, which could possibly be related to remember because the Spurs rookie begins his much-hyped rookie season Wednesday evening in his first regular-season sport in opposition to the Dallas Mavericks (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
“[Wembanyama] has had that hype for thus lengthy, sort of like LeBron did popping out. I evaluate him extra to LeBron than [former Spurs No. 1 picks Tim Duncan and David Robinson] in that respect,” Popovich mentioned. “And certain, I did fear about it. One among my main issues was to determine tips on how to shield him or how I will give him speeches about this and this and you bought to look out for this and all that.”
James’ first preseason was not one to savor. Although he had some spotlight dunks and wowed followers by displaying off his passing capacity, he shot the ball poorly. He averaged simply eight factors over his first three preseason video games after which had a tough two-game journey to Southern California on which he went 8-for-32 capturing in two video games in opposition to the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, with opposing gamers virtually mocking him by standing again from him to dare him to shoot.
One nationwide journalist requested if “hype” was quick for “hey, you follow sufficient?” after James’ jumper regarded so creaky.
That is already a pointy distinction to Wembanyama, who has solely amplified the curiosity in him with a blinding preseason crammed with spotlight performs from nutmegs to step-backs jumpers to eye-popping dunks. He put the ending touches on it with a 19-point, five-block show Friday evening in his first sport in California in opposition to the Golden State Warriors.
“I believe I am prepared,” Wembanyama advised ESPN final week. “I do know I have never seen the most effective stage of the NBA to this point and the most effective groups and the most effective gamers, but it surely’s very thrilling.”
WHETHER WEMBANYAMA’S PRESEASON will translate to dominant regular-season video games rapidly is but to be seen.
James’ first regular-season sport, a street matchup in Sacramento, is remembered as historic. His first quarter, wherein he scored 12 factors and obtained steals on three of 4 Kings possessions — one resulting in an iconic picture of his first official dunk (of two,108 regular-season dunks and counting) — was as shocking because it was statement-making.
Nobody noticed James’ 25-point, 9-assist, 4-steal sport coming as a result of he’d shot 35% in seven preseason video games and by no means cracked 20 factors. Wanting again 13 years later, James remained mildly shocked at how nicely he dealt with it.
“Simply seeing how for an 18-year-old child there actually wasn’t a lot I might inform him at that time,” mentioned James in 2016 speaking about watching that first sport years later. “He was simply excited to be on the court docket, and he was simply having enjoyable. This was earlier than social media and all that, so he did not actually have to fret about something, simply exit and play and stay with the outcomes, stay with no matter occurred, and he is continued to do this.”
James’ Cavaliers misplaced their opener by double figures and began that 2003-04 season 4-15. James was among the many league leaders in turnovers over the primary two months of the season, struggling because the group’s start line guard earlier than he was really prepared for that project.
Wembanyama is enjoying in an experimental lineup out of the gate. The Spurs plan to begin the season with one pure guard, capturing guard Devin Vassell, and 4 forwards/facilities with Sochan enjoying level and Wembanyama prone to get some ballhandling duties. And, as James famous, Wembanyama should compete below what’s going to probably be a good quantity of social media scrutiny, maybe much like what he confronted throughout his disappointing debut on the NBA 2K24 Summer time League.
The Spurs are a doubtlessly thrilling group with Wembanyama bringing them growing ranges of consideration, showing on nationwide tv 19 instances this season in comparison with simply as soon as a season in the past. Nevertheless, just like the Cavs in James’ first yr — Cleveland completed 35-47 and missed the playoffs — the Spurs won’t be an excellent group.
Nonetheless, Wembanyama’s seemingly stress-free early days have fostered confidence. He was nervous earlier than his preseason debut in Oklahoma Metropolis two weeks in the past, struggling to sleep with additional vitality, however he largely has regarded easy since.
In contrast to James, who began his rookie season with a three-game West Coast street journey, Wembanyama additionally will get his first two video games at residence.
Popovich has admitted he is dropped his guard just a little from being additional protecting the extra he has watched Wembanyama handle each the highlight and the transition to the NBA sport. Although the preseason is not what it was once again when James was beginning out — again then it wasn’t uncommon for stars to play over half-hour and compete deep into fourth quarters in double the variety of video games — Wembanyama has set a tone.
“This did not simply occur to him. For a fairly very long time now, he is been lauded,” Popovich mentioned. “He is realized to only let it go, in a single ear, out the opposite. Water on a duck’s again, all that kind of factor. He does not get impressed with any of the plots or criticism, he simply needs to play and be the most effective participant he might be.”
Memorabilia from James’ first sport has offered for greater than 20 years. Coming from completely different eras and fairly completely different backgrounds and upbringings, his and Wembanyama’s experiences are assured to be completely different irrespective of how the Spurs rookie’s debut unfolds.
However additionally they probably can have some issues in widespread, too.
“It was my first time within the NBA after which to have the ability to be part of an environment like that,” James remembered, “it was fairly cool.”
Wembanyama was two months from being born when James had that have. However even coming from a unique era, he needs the identical factor.
“I am wanting ahead to discovering all of the stuff I used to see on TV. All of the tales. All of the arenas. The atmospheres. All of that is going to be actually treasured for me,” Wembanyama mentioned. “I do know it is going to result in unimaginable issues and obstacles. I do know it is going to be a ravishing yr. I do know I am forging endlessly recollections proper now.”