Twelve years ago Thursday, the most hyped teenager in NBA history played in his first regular-season game.
In doing so, 18-year-old LeBron James catapulted himself into the stratosphere of the sports world and never looked back.
Under the glow of a national television spotlight, the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ No. 1 overall draft pick racked up 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals in 42 minutes on Oct. 29, 2003. He couldn’t do everything by himself, though, as his Cavs lost 106-92 on the road to the Sacramento Kings, who were at the zenith of a long run of playoff seasons.
Here are 12 things to know on the 12th anniversary of LeBron’s NBA debut:
• The game was delayed when the opening act of ESPN’s doubleheader, between the Orlando Magic and New York Knicks, went to overtime. The tipoff in Sacramento was pushed back so the national TV audience could see James’ debut in its entirety. (In case you’re wondering, the Magic beat the Knicks 85-83, behind 26 points by Tracy McGrady.)
• James’ point total exceeded the combined NBA debut totals of Kobe Bryant (zero points), Jermaine O’Neal (two), Kwame Brown (two), Eddy Curry (two), Tyson Chandler (one), Kevin Garnett (eight) and McGrady (zero).
• Despite James’ impressive stat totals, the Cavs were outscored by nine points while he was on the court. (C’mon, where was the help on defense?!)
• James shot 12-for-20 from the field (60 percent) that night. The rest of the Cavs shot 28-for-66 from the floor (42.4 percent).
• The Cavs’ second-leading scorer was Cleveland native J.R. Bremer, a point guard who scored 20 points off the bench.
• Cleveland rallied from a 19-point deficit to take an 85-83 lead with 10:05 left when James assisted on a 3-pointer by Bremer. The Kings then went on a 6-0 run and never trailed again.
• Of the 18 players who appeared in that game, only James is still an active NBA player this season. Of course, there’s still time for someone to sign Carlos Boozer or Gerald Wallace, both of whom played last season.
• Cleveland’s other 2003 draft pick was second-rounder Jason Kapono out of UCLA at No. 31 overall. He didn’t play the night James debuted in Sacramento, but he did win a championship ring first, as a member of the 2005-06 Miami Heat.
• A sampling of athletes who attended James’ debut: Terrell Owens, Moses Malone, Jeff Garcia and Dusty Baker.
• Before the game, James — just a few months out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio — innocently described Cavs coach Paul Silas as “probably the best coach I’ve ever had.”
• The game drew a 2.8 rating on ESPN, which equates to about 2.5 million households. Only one of ESPN’s 69 games the previous regular season drew a higher rating — the first matchup between Yao Ming and Shaquille O’Neal, on Jan. 17, 2003, earned a 3.8 rating.
• James was listed at 6 feet 8 and 240 pounds for his debut. Voice of America News, however, described James as 2.03 meters and 109 kilograms. This season, James is listed at 6-8, 250.
For more detail on James’ NBA debut, read this excellent article by Brian Windhorst from 2013.