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Jack McCallum
October 27, 2003
Can an 18-year-old shoulder the burden of a league, a city and a few corporations?
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October 27, 2003

You Gotta Carry That Weight

Can an 18-year-old shoulder the burden of a league, a city and a few corporations?

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Though James is building his dream home halfway between Cleveland and Akron, he is canny enough to say all the right things about his adopted city. "Come on out to Cleveland," he says, "and it'll be lit up like Vegas." Still, this is new ground: a teenager triggering a real estate boom. If LeBron is something less than spectacular, does that mean downtown dies?


Most certainly, if James fails to measure up, the dominoes within the organization will start falling. Paxson, who started to remake the Cavs with exciting young players three years ago, would likely be fired. What Komoroski calls "the positive burst of energy within the organization"—accentuated by a return to the team's colors of the 1970s ("a new expression of wine and gold," as the team's marketing department calls it)—would be quickly depleted. And undoubtedly Silas, who was fired last year by the New Orleans Hornets, would soon be a goner.

James is a savvy lad and is surely cognizant of at least some of this burden of consequence, particularly as it regards his coach, a rugged rebounding machine during his 16 NBA seasons. James has responded to Silas's confident manner and brand of tough love. "Everybody who comes into this league needs an NBA skill," Silas says with a smile, "and mine was whupping ass." James likes that. He sees himself as a smiling assassin with a lot of old school in his game. Silas, in turn, is awed by the young man's talent but not to the point that he won't sit him down and "chew his ass" once in a while.

Still, Silas feels the pressure. How could he not? On an afternoon before training camp began, the coach glanced at the regular-season schedule (road games in Sacramento, Phoenix and Portland before the Nov. 5 home opener against the Nuggets) and mused, "We've gotta get one of those first three, then beat Denver at home to be 2-2." Sweating the W's and L's so early in the season seems out of character for such a veteran coach.

If James stays healthy, Silas knows his team is expected to be markedly better than the disorganized duds who went 17-65 last season under John Lucas and Keith Smart. How much better? There are whispers within the organization about contending for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference—even with a probable starting five whose average age is an absurdly callow 22 years, 10 months. Then, too, Silas believes that rookies can learn by watching, a tack he took with the Hornets in 1999-2000, when he frequently sat rookie point guard Baron Davis. Silas has joked that " David Stern will be looking at me" if James is on the bench for long stretches. His quandary is clear: It's one thing to bench Baron Davis, quite another to keep the most celebrated draftee since Elvis Presley on the pine.

"I don't have any plan about how much I should play," says James. "It's all up to Coach Silas. I'm in his hands."

And he, Bron, is in yours.


With an entirely straight face James has proclaimed, "This isn't my team. It's Z's team and Ricky's team." He refers to center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, an established low-post scorer but one who has missed two entire seasons and parts of two others with foot injuries, and the 6'7" Davis, a talented swingman whose most memorable moment last season came when he deliberately shot at the wrong basket, mistakenly believing that he could fill out his triple double by grabbing his own rebound there.

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