Leading Off: James has come a long way since his debut

When LeBron James played his first NBA game – in Sacramento on Oct. 29, 2003 – he was thinner, had fewer tattoos and was still getting acclimated to the media crunch.

While covering the Kings and the NBA then, we picked his brain during a media session before practice at what was then Arco Arena.

Said the Cleveland Cavaliers’ prodigy, then 18, about dealing with the whirlwind of great expectations, “I’m tired, exhausted right now. Mentally, right now, I’m not ready for the game. When the game rolls around, I’ll be ready.”

Was he ever.

James had 25 points, six rebounds and nine assists in a spirited loss to the Kings on national TV. It was the first time a player had at least 20 points and nine assists in his debut since Detroit’s Isiah Thomas in 1981.

We also asked James if the hype already had become too much.

“I’ve been hyped since the 11th grade,” he said. “This is nothing new to me. It’s kind of new to y’all. I love it. The hype never gets old. When it does, I’ll stop playing.”

It’s interesting to look back to James’ second Arco visit, on Jan. 20, 2005, and how he envisioned himself remaining in Cleveland long term, saying, “I have family (close to Cleveland), and I don’t need to be a glamour-city guy.”

But he became one when he signed with Miami, which makes its only appearance of the season at Sleep Train Arena tonight. He’s also a two-time defending NBA champion and still in the conversation for best player in the league.

James also told us before his NBA debut: “I’m not a fan of the NBA. I just love to play basketball ... but I don’t want to say I’m a fan of the NBA.”

In his 11th season, he’s become a fan – and one of the fans’ favorite players.

– Joe Davidson

What to do

NBA, Miami Heat at Kings, 7 p.m., Sleep Train Arena: With the defending champs in town, can the Kings find their missing defense?

What to watch

College football, Fight Hunger Bowl, 6:30 p.m., ESPN : Check out former Grant star Shaq Thompson (No. 7) and the Washington Huskies against BYU.

Today’s poll

Who is the best player in the NBA?

• Kevin Durant, Thunder

• LeBron James, Heat

• Paul George, Pacers

• Kevin Love, Timberwolves

• Chris Paul, Clippers

• Other

Vote above, or go to

Thursday’s results

Who should coach the Raiders next season ?

• Dennis Allen: 12%

• Jon Gruden: 78%

• Other: 11%

Total votes: 441