Part one of a four part series…
This week LeBron James makes his return to Cleveland for the first time since “The Decision” back in July. Needless to say, this will be a landmark moment for the city as we officially come face to face with the ramifications of “The Decision.” Since this is such a huge event I will be focusing the majority of the week on “The Return.” Today’s entry, part 1, will focus on the marriage of LeBron James to the Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland…
May 22, 2003
The day that would forever change the Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland.
May 22, 2003
The day that Cleveland would FINALLY have a sports savior, their own Basketball Jesus to guide the city to its first major championship since 1964.
May 22, 2003
The day that the Cleveland Cavaliers, holders of a 22.5% chance of obtaining the #1 pick in the NBA draft would do just that, and gain the right to draft… LeBron James.
On May 22, 2003 LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers became engaged. When the ping pong balls for the NBA draft lottery bounced in their favor, or were set up by David Stern, it was a foregone conclusion that the Cavaliers would do just that.
LeBron James came into the NBA draft as the most highly touted NBA prospect in most recent memory… if not ever. At the age of 17 Sports Illustrated placed him on their cover and dubbed him “The Chosen One.” Many NBA insiders believed that as a high school junior James could have been the #1 pick in the 2002 draft. This only added fuel to the fire of expectations surrounding the teenager who had been born and raised a short drive away in Akron, OH.
This was a story that couldn’t have been written any better. A local kid gets drafted by his home town team and leads them to the promised land. It had all the makings. This was the long awaited break the city had been dying for. A chance to draft a player who could one day become the greatest basketball player of all-time and in the process dethroning the likes of Jordan, Russell, Magic, and Bird. Cleveland would have its king… and he was one of us.
As the days drew closer to the 2003 draft excitement began to grow. This was really going to happen. The Cleveland Cavaliers had finished the previous season with a record of 17-65 (tied for league worst) and were about to become a major NBA player for the first time since the late 80’s and early 90’s. The team was about to have, what it believed to be, its first legitimate superstar (Shawn Kemp and his litter of illegitimate children came close).
The Cavs spared no expense for this match made in heaven. They ditched their current color scheme of black, white, and light blue for a modern interpretation of the wine and gold. This effectively signaled the end of what was a truly dark period for the Cavs. Seriously, the uniforms and colors were hideous. New marketing campaigns and increased ticket sales also proved times were changing. The Cavs were about to be exciting again. It was a new age, the age of “The King.”
The next thing anyone knew the day had arrived. June 26, 2003… wedding day. Much to the surprise of absolutely no one the Cleveland Cavaliers selected LeBron James with the first overall pick in the NBA draft. The city was alive for the first time in a long time with Cavalier fever. People who didn’t even watch basketball tuned in to the draft to watch the Cavs draft “that kid from Akron.”
In addition to the talents of Lebron James, the 2003 NBA draft was considered to be one of the deepest and most talent rich in NBA history. The Detroit Pistons, who received the #2 pick thanks to a trade years earlier with the Memphis Grizzlies, chose Serbian teenager Darko Milicic over Syracuse freshman standout Carmello Anthony. Milicic was a 7 foot tall phenom who had wowed scouts with his ability to score, pass and defend. He was considered a project but thanks to Detroit’s established young core it afforded them the luxury to take on said project. The Denver Nuggets would go on to draft Anthony at #3. Rounding out the top five were a 6’10” power forward from Georgia Tech and a 6’4” shooting guard from Marquette. The respective players… Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
LeBron was everything anyone could have asked for. He was a charming kid with a flashy smile that seemed to be wise beyond his years. He said all the right things. He had the right attitude. He was ready to ascend the ranks to NBA glory and carry Cleveland on his back to do it. He said that much each and every time he was interviewed. Growing up not far from Cleveland he knew what a championship would mean to the city and vowed to do everything in his power to help achieve it.
In the weeks and months ahead the Cavaliers would begin to transform themselves from cellar dwellers to perennial favorites. It wouldn’t come smoothly. They hired Paul Silas to be LeBron’s first coach, the man to shape and mold LeBron into a pro and teach him how to do things the right way. National pundits weighed in on what to expect from “The King.” Was he in over his head? Would he be as good as everyone thought? Could he compete at a high level against the greatest players in the world, the like of which he had never seen in high school?
The world would find out the answers to their questions on October 29, 2003 when the Cavaliers tipped off their season against the Sacramento Kings. It was the beginning of the new Cavaliers. It was the day the franchise would begin its expected assent to the top of the NBA. It was the day LeBron James would begin his onslaught of the NBA record books and assume NBA greatness.
October 29, 2003…
The day the honeymoon would begin…