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LeBron James electrifies crowd in 1st Drew League appearance since 2011

The 4-time Kia MVP finishes with 42 points and 16 rebounds as DeMar DeRozan’s MMV Cheaters defeat Black Pearl Elite 104-102.

LeBron James attacks the basket relentlessly in his return to the Drew League, including this rim-rattling, off-the-glass alley-oop.

LOS ANGELES — As soon as he stepped onto the court, LeBron James heard the cheers and claps that have become customary for Los Angeles Lakers’ home games. This time, though, James stepped foot in another local venue well known for its affection for basketball.

James competed in a game on Saturday at the Drew League, a pro-am summer league based in L.A. that has hosted a handful of NBA players as well as local college and overseas prospects. This marked James’ first Drew League appearance since participating in 2011 during the NBA lockout.

Drew League Commissioner Dino Smiley told that about 2,500 fans attended James’ game, well above the 1,300 capacity that King-Drew Magnet High School normally holds. Smiley added that fans arrived as early as 6:30 a.m. PT, well before James’ scheduled appearance for a game at 1:45 p.m. PT.

No matter. Those fans, many of whom wore various Lakers and James’ memorabilia, wanted to see James about two months before beginning his 20th NBA season. They wanted to see Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan, who grew up in Compton and played with James on Saturday. And they wanted to see Kyrie Irving, whom Smiley said had confirmed to play on Saturday at 11:45 a.m. PT. Irving attended a camp that Lakers assistant coach Phil Handy had hosted, leaving Drew League officials perplexed about Irving’s changed itinerary.

“They were pretty sure he was coming,” Smiley said of Irving’s representatives. “But you know how Kyrie is. I guess he changed his mind in the middle of it.”

That scheduling snafu did not soil the festive atmosphere, however, surrounding James’ arrival. Energized by the crowd, James led the MMV Cheaters with 42 points, 16 rebounds and four steals in a 104-102 victory over Black Pearl Elite. DeRozan added 30 points and 14 rebounds.

Before putting on a show with his play, James put on a show with his star power. Shortly after taking the court, James met a flood of fans eager to greet him with hugs and high fives. One of those fans was LaVar Ball, the outspoken father of LaMelo and Lonzo and coach of another Drew League team (Team BBB). Warriors forward Draymond Green, Lakers forward Talen Horton-Tucker, Lakers guard Kendrick Nunn and former NBA player Baron Davis also attended the game.

James then treated the sell-out crowd to a performance that featured a handful of one-handed dunks, fadeaways and pull-up 3s.

After the game ended, a handful of Lakers fans clamored for James to sign autographs and pose for pictures. But security quickly whisked James away into his car.

Will Irving play in the Drew League moving forward? Smiley said that Irving might play on Sunday, but still awaited clarity on Saturday night. Nonetheless, that would not likely produce the same sizzle had Irving arrived to the Drew League on Saturday.

Irving’s planned attendance sparked intrigue on a possible reunion with James after the two played together for three seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers and won the 2016 NBA championship. Though Irving and James had games scheduled at different times, their expected arrival also sparked intrigue on a possible partnership next season with the Lakers.

The Lakers have talked with the Brooklyn Nets about acquiring Irving in a deal centered around Russell Westbrook. But the Lakers have mixed feelings on how many of their first-round picks they are willing to deal (2027, 2028, 2029).

“In order to get great talent, you have to give up a lot of great talent and value in Draft picks,” Lakers governor Jeanie Buss told this week. “Every team is sophisticated and smart. Nobody is just asleep at the wheel. Everybody is just trying to make their team better. Some teams are pivoting from a path they were on and want to deal because they have players that don’t fit what their plans are. So it’s a fluid situation. You always have to stay on top of it.”

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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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