CLEVELAND — On his first official day as an NBA player, LeBron James did all he could to blend in with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ other rookies.
Cleveland opened training camp Tuesday at Gund Arena, and as expected, all eyes were on James, the 18-year-old local kid who has already made the Cavaliers one of the league’s hottest tickets before playing his first game.
Following the morning practice session, Cavs coach Paul Silas was asked how “he” did?
“Who?” Silas asked, winking.
“Oh,” a smiling Silas said.
The Cavaliers began preparing for a season that promises to be unlike any in their history. They’ve already had one abnormal practice.
Several dozen media members were on hand to watch James work out with his new team.
The throng of reporters was larger than any to attend one of Cleveland’s home games in recent memory. No surprise, really.
The Cavaliers won just 17 games last season, and haven’t exactly been fighting the Los Angeles Lakers for national attention lately.
“We were a little giddy before practice,” said second-year forward Carlos Boozer. “We’re excited because we know we’re better.”
Indeed, times have changed in Cleveland, which has had all summer to prepare for LeBronmania. Now, it’s here.
“I’m just glad it has started and he’s on the floor,” general manager Jim Paxson said. “It’s been a long summer. It’s time, and we’re glad to be back at work.”
So was James, whose childhood dream of playing in the NBA is finally becoming a reality.
“This is another beginning for me,” he said.
Being a rookie has rekindled memories of being a wet-behind-the ears high school freshman, before he became a consensus national player of the year and A-list celebrity.
James knows he has much to learn.
“In high school I was up here,” he said, holding his hand just above his head. “But now I’m back down here. When I was a freshman in high school, I had leaders. When the team comes to me and tells me to be a leader vocally, I can do that because I’ve done it so much. Right now, I’m just trying to keep my mouth closed and take on my role. I’m back to being a role player.”
During the portion of practice open to reporters, James gave some glimpses of why he has Cleveland fans talking about the Cavaliers and not laughing them off.
In a two-on-two drill, James and Darius Miles were paired against rookie Jason Kapono and seven-year veteran Chris Carr. After passing to Miles on the wing, James spun away from Carr, took a pass near the baseline and dunked.
A few feet away, Silas nodded his approval.
“He has a chance to be a special player,” Silas said. “He has that something that you can’t teach, something the really good players have. But it’s going to take him some time.”
Like any rookie, James must go through some hazing. There are bags to carry and doughnuts to buy for the Cavaliers’ veterans.
“Krispy Kremes,” James said. “Before every game, me and Kapono have to get them for the veterans.”
But with more than $100 million in endorsement deals, James is no ordinary rookie, which is why his teammates joked that he should bring one of the famous doughnut franchises to them.
“They told me to build one in the locker room,” he said.