Kia Season Preview 2018-19

A look back at LeBron James' career debut games

Jeff Case,

LeBron James is set to begin his 16th NBA season, having played in 1,143 games and logged 44,298 minutes in a career that includes four MVPs, three Finals MVPs, multiple All-NBA and All-Defensive awards and more.

Yet only three times in his career has LeBron James had a debut game to look forward to. As he prepares for his new start with the Los Angeles Lakers tonight in Portland (10:30 ET, TNT), let’s take a quick look back at how “The King” fared in his previous first games in his career.

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Oct. 29, 2003

The matchup: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Sacramento Kings

LeBron’s line: 25 points, six rebounds, nine assists, four steals, two turnovers in 42 minutes

Result: Kings 106, Cavs 92

The game: On Oct. 29, 2003, high school phenom LeBron James officially went from No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 Draft to NBA player. It was one of the most hyped and awaited moments in not just the NBA, but sports at large. For his part individually, James showed why he was so highly billed, even though his Cavaliers would ultimately lose their opener against the Kings.

The aftermath: James eventually ran away with Rookie of the Year honors and was named All-Rookie first team in 2003-04 as well. A season later, he was an All-Star and an All-NBA player for the first time in his career, starting a string of 14 seasons (and counting) of him collecting those honors. Then came All-Star Game MVP honors (in 2006 and ’08), back-to-back NBA MVP honors (in ’09 and ’10) and Cleveland’s first trip to The Finals (’08). But after seven seasons with the Cavs, James opted for a scenery change in the summer of 2010 and signed with the Miami Heat, setting up another debut …

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Oct. 26, 2010

The matchup: Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics

LeBron’s line: 31 points, four rebounds, three assists, one steal, two blocks, eight turnovers in 42 minutes, 39 seconds

Result: Celtics 88, Heat 80

The game: The Heat waited all summer to see what James — and fellow free-agent addition Chris Bosh — could do playing alongside resident Miami stud Dwyane Wade. While James played up to his usual standards (save for the turnovers), rough outings from Bosh (eight points on 3-for-11 shooting) and Wade (13 points, 3-16 FG) were key in Miami losing its season-opener.

The aftermath: The Heat’s ho-hum start to 2010-11 (they were 9-8 at one point) didn’t last long. Behind James, they rolled up the East’s second-best record and rampaged through the 2011 playoffs en route to The Finals. Although they ultimately lost that series, James and Co. scorched opponents in the next two seasons. As LeBron racked up two more MVPs in ’11-12 and ’12-13, the Heat also won the NBA title in those seasons, too. The Heat never lost more than six playoff games in the East playoffs in any given LeBron-led season, but by 2014, James was ready to enter free agency again …

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Oct. 30, 2014

The matchup: New York Knicks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron’s line: 17 points, five rebounds, four assists, eight turnovers in 43 minutes, 14 seconds

Result: Knicks 95, Cavs 90

The game: Signing James in free agency was just part of the Cavs’ offseason makeover, which included adding All-Star big man Kevin Love, too. He joined James and star guard Kyrie Irving to comprise a new Cleveland “Big Three” who performed about as expected in their first game together. Irving got his first taste of playing the point alongside LeBron (22 points, seven assists, five rebounds) while Love (19 points, 14 rebounds, four assists) fared decent, too.

The aftermath: More reunion than pure “debut”, this showdown with the Knicks marked LeBron’s official return to his first NBA team and the start of his quest to bring the Cavs a title. Although turmoil and roster changes marked the LeBron reunion tour at times, so, too, did success. The Cavs made four straight Finals from 2014-18 and, although they were 7-15 overall on that stage in that stretch, they also did get their first NBA title in historic fashion in 2016. That run ended last summer and James opted for the bright lights of Hollywood, leading to his latest debut.

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