LeBron James Rookie of the Year Press Conference

Gordon Gund:

Welcome everyone. We welcome you to what is a very special press conference for us. This is the first time in our franchise history that we’ve been able to announce the NBA Rookie of the Year. We’re here to do that with 2004 NBA Rookie of the Year LeBron James.

Before we go any further, I want to acknowledge Gloria James, LeBron’s mother, for being here. On my left here is President of Cavaliers Basketball Team Operations and General Manager Jim Paxson. Jim, among many good decisions he made this year, had the good sense—he agonized over it a great deal—to draft LeBron with the first pick in the NBA Draft. On my right is Head Coach Paul Silas and Paul did a remarkable job with the responsibility and privilege of being LeBron’s first head coach in the NBA.

A couple thoughts on LeBron before I turn it over to him. First of all, all of you know that when LeBron came into the NBA, he came in with an unprecedented amount of anticipation, excitement and expectation. He handled it very well from the start and continued to handle it very well throughout the year. He proved to all of us that he is up for a challenge. He met all of our expectations and just kept raising the bar. He also proved he’s a team-oriented player and proves that he just wants to win. These ingredients were important for his success and for the tremendous improvement the team had this past year.

A lot of people focus on LeBron’s statistics, and certainly they are remarkable, but what really sets him apart as a player and a teammate, you can’t find in the boxscores. Things like attitude, work ethic, and a complete commitment to winning. These are felt in the games he plays, in the practices, in the locker room, and certainly when you see him in front of a Play Station video screen. He’s just competitive. LeBron, congratulations. Please join me in congratulating LeBron.

LeBron James:

I’m very excited about winning the 2004 Got Milk? Rookie of the Year award. First of all, I would like to thank my mother. She’s been there from day one. The best thing she ever told me was the difference between right and wrong and I was able to carry that through the age I am at now, 19.

The Lord Jesus above. He gave me God-given gifts and I was able to take advantage of them. That’s always a key for me and I thank him every day.

The whole NBA. The whole experience was really great for me. It challenged me to go out and work hard and prepare every night, to make challenges for myself, and to help my teammates get better.

I thank my teammates. I’m looking forward to another exciting season.

Coach Silas—everyone knows he can coach—but he’s been a great mentor for me another young players—Carlos [Boozer], Dajuan Wagner, DeSagana Diop. He brought an intensity to this franchise it didn’t have for a few years.

To the other rookies. I felt like it was going to be a close race between me and Carmelo. I was able to win the award, but he had a phenomenal season also. Dwayne Wade had a phenomenal season, and for those two teams [Denver and Miami] to be in the playoffs means a lot to me. Other rookies—Chris Bosh and Kirk Hinrich—made an impact in this league. This might be the best rookie class since 1995.

I thank the media—you all raised the bar for me. I didn’t think I could get [the Rookie of the Year award].

Does it make up for the snub of not playing in the All-Star game?

LBJ: I pretty much thought it could go either way. I could either win it unanimously or it would be a split decision. That’s pretty much what my thought process was.

With a great grasp of NBA history, how does it feel to be grouped together with Oscar Roberston and Michael Jordan?

LBJ: It’s great. They didn’t do it one year, but did it throughout their careers. It’s always going to be key for me to maintain the progress and keep getting better every day, and keep helping my team get better.

With the dispute surrounding Maurice Clarett’s entry into the NFL, how do you feel about age limitations?

LBJ: I think the NFL made a great point. The NFL has been successful with the age group they have in the league. They haven’t suffered because they haven’t let underage players come in. There’s always different circumstances with different sports and different styles of life. You’re going to find a roadblock in every part of life. I’m just happy that the NBA allows 18-year olds to enter this league.

When Bird and Magic came into the league, they were joined at the hip. Describe your rivalry with Carmelo.

LBJ: Some people don’t realize it, but [the Bird-Johnson rivalry] started before college. They played against each other in high school. They played in the national championship in college, and played through their whole rookie year. It didn’t just start when they got to the league, and that’s what people don’t realize. It wasn’t just built when they got to the NBA; it was built all through high school.

It’s going to be a friendly rivalry [between me and Carmelo]. You all made it so that’s it’s just another challenge for me and Carmelo to overcome.

Because you didn’t go to college, is that something you’ll do after or possibly during your career?

LBJ: I’m going to do the best situation for me.

What are you going to do in the offseason?

LBJ: I’m resting right now. They had to drag me out of bed to put on this suit on. They had to kick me out of bed because I didn’t want to get out of it. I thought I was going to practice when I got up this morning.

Did this come easier that you thought it would?

LBJ: I don’t want to say easy. Going through practice—you all don’t see practice every day—I think my coaches and teammates really had a lot of confidence in me. I had confidence in them that we could make an impact. I knew I could play the game of basketball. I knew mentally and physically I could be ready to play in this league. I was put in a great system and put around great players.

Did any one exciting moment stand out for you this season?

LBJ: Just winning. To come off a season like last year winning 17 games, which I watched a lot of, I just wanted to make an impact. I was able to do that. That was the most impressive thing for me to see a team from training camp, and I always say this, through this year we had three different teams. We made a trade to Boston—that was the second team—and the trade to Portland that was the third team. Next year, we’ll be able to see what kind of team we can have because we’ll have a team from the start to go through the whole season.

Did you have numbers in mind that you wanted to average?

LBJ: No. As a matter of fact, when I got drafted, I just wanted to make an impact on the court playing hard. I knew I couldn’t take any plays off. In high school, you can take plays off because the skill level is not as high as the NBA’s. I knew I could make an impact. I didn’t say I was going to average this many points. Statistics don’t mean anything to me.

Coach Silas, talk about the development of this young man.

PS: Coming into the league and not knowing what to expect, I think the first game identified what he was going to be like. It surprised me and everybody else—25 points, so many rebounds and assists and that kind of thing. I knew then we had something special. Throughout the year watching him mature was the most exciting thing to me because not playing pro ball, you have to learn the little things, moving without the ball, defensive rotations, that sort of thing. He grasped that quicker than most players would. His attitude was most important to me. He has it. He knows how to fit it, but also stand out. That’s kind of special.

Was this year more about LeBron putting in his dues?

PS: I guess there are dues still to be paid. He’s young, he’s still learning. He has a chance to be a great player, but certainly how we do as a team is going to identify with LeBron. You mention Magic and Bird, we’ll they won championships, and he and Carmelo are going to have to match that kind of reputation. I think that’s what it’s all about. As far as we go as a team will identify him as a player. So many players go through this league and never win championships and that’s what this league is all about.

LeBron, are you surprised by the impact you’ve had off the floor?

LBJ: That’s exciting. I went through high school wearing other peoples’ jerseys. I looked up to those players. When I come out and warm up with 77 minutes on the clock and you see lots of fans out in the crowd wearing your jersey and your shoes is a tribute. That’s my hard work and I was able to show my game. The kids really looked up to me and I have no problem being a role model.

LeBron, can you talk about what motivates you?

LBJ: I just want to get better. Critics really choose who the best player in the game is going to be. That’s not my goal. My goal is to get better every year, hopefully my team gets better every year, and to help my teammates get better every year.

What was harder—the games and practices themselves or dealing with all of us and the travels of LeBron James?

LBJ: The games are really easier than practice. You can make mistakes in practice, but Coach can say a lot more things in practice than he can say in games. During the game, that’s the easy part. Traveling—that’s really hard. Every one on the team wants to be home with their family. Once you get comfortable in Cleveland, you don’t want to leave. Jumping from city-to-city and back-to-back games was really hard for me this year.

How much does your traveling at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s helped you with that this year?

LBJ: It got my mindset right. What you’re going to experience from city-to-city, what the crowds would be like. The crowd was always with me last year; we went down to North Carolina and played a team from Greensboro and they booed us. We won, though. When they awarded the MVP trophy, there weren’t any more boos. We went to L.A. and played Westchester and it was the same thing. I was able to handle adversity from the crowd and local media. It set my mind right.

What kind of advice can you give to players out of high school who want to go right to the pros?

LBJ: When you get to the NBA, you’re so much higher than everyone you played in high school. You pretty much have to go all the way back to the bottom. You’re not the best player anymore. That’s how I looked at it—I’m not the best player anymore. I’ve got to start all over. You just have to stay humble. You’ve been playing the game for so long that you shouldn’t have anyone tell you how to play it. It’s all about work ethic. If you’ve got a great work ethic, you can survive in this league. You can’t back down from anyone either. They try and take your manhood. They didn’t get mine. They tried early until game seven, but after that it was over.

Has Jordan ever said anything about the time it will take you to reach the next level?

LBJ: No, not really. I have watched. You can’t win championships without players around you. That’s number one. We have our nucleus now—Jeff [McInnis], Booz, Z and me. We need to surround ourselves with players who know their job and can get it done. I think we had it at some points this year. When we lost our quarterback, it really showed. The championships come with time. We’re not looking to win a championship next year or year three—maybe [Silas] is—but nobody’s going to win a championship until Shaq’s out of the league. But we’re going to keep progressing every year.

Jim, do you have any comment on age limitations?

JP: After the 2003 NBA Draft, they can do whatever they want. There are different factors. LeBron answered that question very well earlier. There are different circumstances in every league and in our league, we have to have to structures in place to bring these young players along. LeBron brought along some characteristics which made that job easier. I’m not going to say today the right or wrong ways to handle it, but every situation is different and every league is different.

Did you think a year ago you’d be accepting the Rookie of the Year award?

LBJ: I knew if I got the opportunity, I could make things happen on the court. I’ve got a great coach in Paul. Before I got drafted, we didn’t have a coach, so it was up in the air who we were going to have as a coach. Once we got Coach Silas who says, “If you can produce, you’ll be on the court,” and in my mind, I could produce and got an opportunity through him to do that.

How has LeBron been able to shine under one of the biggest spotlights?

PS: It’s all attitude. Attitude is what’s most important in life. It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you think about it. He has a knack of saying the right thing and doing the right thing at the right time. And not in an antagonistic manner. That’s what really makes it work. If he were a different kind of guy, with all the media scrutiny and hoopla, it could have been disaster. That’s just not who he is. He’s humble. He talks about winning all the time—that’s what he’s about—not individual accolades. Those come and certainly he’s got the athleticism. But he’s got the attitude to propel himself and this team and that’s most important and what makes it work.

Do you think you can hang with anybody in this league?

LBJ: I went through a rough stretch at the beginning of the year, but I knew I could hang with anybody. I had the athleticism, the weight, and the strength—my mindset was a lot different. I came into this league with the mindset that I wanted to make an impact.

Are you looking forward to getting more calls from the officials now that the rookie tag is off?

LBJ: I got banged up a lot this year without a whistle. I didn’t complain and was able to fight through it. To tell you the truth, I could have averaged 25 points this year if I would have had all the calls.

Larry [Bird], Michael [Jordan], and Magic devoted their offseasons to developing aspects of their game. What do you want to improve on?

LBJ: Everything. You can’t improve athleticism, so that one’s pretty much in the box. Shooting. From beginning of the preseason until now, I’ve become a much better shooter. I’m going to keep working with the coaches to improve my shooting. Lateral movement is going to be key for me because I want to become one of the best defenders in this league also. I’m going to work on a lot of aspects to my game. If I get better and if my teammates see me and I see them, we’re going to be a much better team.

Could LeBron’s achievement be possible during your playing days?

PS: I don’t think so because you didn’t have players as athletic, with the mentality where they could come in and have an impact. I guess as an 18-year old coming in, it is kind of phenomenal what has happened. In the olden days, you didn’t have the flagrant fouls either.

Mr. Gund, after so many lean years, how excited are you for this franchise?

GG: Well, I couldn’t be any more excited. It’s terrific. It’s wonderful for the town and the whole marketplace, Northeast Ohio, and beyond. It’s great for the NBA. All around the country when we went to other team’s buildings, we were selling them out. It’s terrific for a lot of reasons, and I’m extremely proud of the job LeBron did. Why don’t we all give him a round of applause?

LeBron, tell me what’s going through your mind when you were being drafted?

PS: I’m a bad dude.

LBJ: It was exciting. I knew I was coming to a franchise in need of some help. That was exciting for me.

Have you ever thought of dabbling in another sport like football?

LBJ: I love football. Basketball is really my second sport. Football’s always been my first love. I pretty much looked at what was best for my family, what was going to be my meal ticket, and what was going to come faster. I knew I could have made the NFL if I wanted to and signed to a huge Division I scholarship. I’m happy I made this decision because I probably would have been like Maurice [Clarett] and they would have sent me back to college. So I made the right choice.

Did you spend more time on football?

LBJ: Football, you can work at it more. You don’t have to be in a gym to work on it. You can be in the street, working on pass routes or anything. Basketball, you need a basketball and hoop to work on it.

GG: If you’re ever lacking a hoop, we’ll make sure you have one.

What school would you have gone to?

LBJ: Probably Ohio State.

JP: This is a Rookie of the Year press conference.