On October 30, 2003, 18-year-old basketball prodigy LeBron James scores 25 points, grabs six rebounds and dishes out nine assists, but his Cleveland Cavaliers lose to the more experienced Sacramento Kings, 106-92. His debut is one of the most impressive in league history—only months earlier, James had graduated from high school.
“I was able to make a lot of moves I made in high school,” James said afterward, via the Chicago Tribune. “I just had to bring a lot more power. They’re a lot stronger in the NBA. Most of the moves I used in high school I used out here.”
The game, televised by ESPN, was “the biggest regular-season game we’ve ever had here,” Sacramento owner Joe Maloof told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “… [LeBron] is a breath of fresh air.”
Michael Jordan, considered the most recognizable player in league history, retired for the third and final time at the end of the 2002-03 season. So, the NBA was ready for another superstar. The league heavily promoted James, whose team was scheduled for 13 prime-time games on TV.
James, an Akron, Ohio native who was selected with the first pick in the 2003 NBA draft, was considered the most-hyped prospect in NBA history. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a junior in high school, and was dubbed “The Chosen One.”
Although Cleveland finished the season with a 35-47 record and missed the playoffs, James’ impact as a rookie was profound. He averaged 20.9 points, 5.9 assists and 5.5 rebounds and led the team to 18 more wins than the previous season.
James won two Most Valuable Player awards during his first stint with the Cavaliers (2003-10). In his second stint with the team (2014-2018), he led the Cavaliers to their only NBA title (2016).