|Thursday, December 12
Updated: December 13, 5:26 PM ET
James proves he's more than just hype
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James didn't try to put on a one-man show. He did anyway.
Displaying his awesome skills to a national television audience for the first time, America's best high school basketball player showed he's equal to all the incredible hype.
Now everyone knows. LeBron James isn't a myth, glossy magazine cover or urban legend. He's the real deal.
James scored 31 points, made spectacular dunks, no-look and behind-the-back passes and put on a dazzling performance Thursday night in leading Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary to a 65-45 upset over Oak Hill Academy, the nation's No. 1-ranked high school team.
''I came here with high expectations,'' said Hall of Famer Bill Walton, who asked ESPN2 if he could broadcast the game so he could get an up-close look at James. ''I'm leaving more impressed than I could have ever believed. This guy has the complete package.
''What I saw tonight was a special basketball player. It was an eye-opening experience for me.''
Walton's not alone.
The 17-year-old James, perhaps the most talked about prep player ever, finished 12-for-25 from the floor and had 13 rebounds and six assists in 32 minutes against what might be the toughest team he'll face before going to college or turning pro next season.
The NBA's millions are calling, and James will probably be the No. 1 overall choice next season if he decides that's where he wants to take his game next.
He appears to be ready.
''I'm more happy we won,'' said the kid, whose school makes him wear white patches over the tattoos on his muscular arms. ''It's not about putting on a show, it's about playing my game.''
James' television debut drew 11,523 fans -- some of whom paid $100 for a courtside seat -- as well as pro scouts, front office personnel from 10 NBA teams, Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien and several members of the Cleveland Browns.
James got a taste of what it will be like nightly in the NBA, getting his first national exposure under the bright television lights as ESPN showcased a regular-season high school game from coast-to-coast for the first time in 13 years.
With Dick Vitale and Walton calling the action, James appeared a little nervous in the opening minutes.
He missed his first three shots -- all jumpers -- but after the 6-foot-8, 240-pounder scored his first basket on a follow dunk with 3:05 left in the first quarter, he soon had a crowd gasping every time he touched the ball.
''He had that slow, sluggish start,'' Walton said, ''and then all of a sudden ... .''
James got behind Oak Hill's defense for a roundhouse, right-handed dunk that brought the crowd to its feet for the first time.
Early in the second quarter, James led a fastbreak before threading a pass through the lane to teammate Romeo Travis. Pleased with the dish, James strutted to midcourt and waved his arms, urging the crowd to stand.
''I felt the vibe,'' he said.
With his team leading 45-40 late in the third quarter, James, who might play guard in the pros, walked the ball up court before freezing Oak Hill's Isaiah Swann with a cross-over dribble and nailing a 3-pointer.
''I've had great players,'' said Oak Hill coach Steve Smith. ''He's the best I've ever seen. But I said that two years ago. He's off the charts and we made his team a lot better than us tonight.''
James' appearance incited a media frenzy inside and outside the 13,600-seat Convocation Center on Cleveland State's campus.
Television satellite trucks were lined up bumper-to-bumper outside the exits, and two hours before tipoff, camera crews from around the country jousted in the tight corridors outside the locker rooms as they tried to sneak a peek of James.
Meanwhile, Vitale was reminding everyone with ear shot what they had come to see.
College basketball's most recognizable personality was getting his first close look at James after preparing for the assignment by watching game film of the teenage wonder.
''What I saw on video awed me,'' Vitale said. ''His understanding of how to play, his explosiveness, his size and his passing ability. He's so reminiscent of Magic (Johnson). Like only the very special players, he has the unique ability to make people around him better.''
Vitale has concerns, but not about James' playing ability.
''I just worry about exploitation,'' he said. ''I worry about money on the side and the unsavory people trying to make a buck or two off of him, that's scary. But as far as his skills, you can't hide that kind of talent.''
After avenging defeats to Oak Hill the past two seasons, James stopped before leaving the arena to shake hands with Walton, who was standing near a stairwell exit.
''Congratulations,'' Walton said.
''Thanks for coming,'' said James.
''No,'' Walton said. ''Thanks for having me.''