Sacramento Kings

LeBron James reflective upon returning to where his NBA career began

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) celebrates a basket against the Kings during Friday night’s game at Golden 1 Center.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) celebrates a basket against the Kings during Friday night’s game at Golden 1 Center. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Sitting in a hotel room in Sacramento makes LeBron James feel nostalgic.

So we learned Thursday night, when the Cleveland Cavaliers star, in town for Friday’s game against the Kings, posted a video to the website Uninterrupted in which he reminisced about making his NBA debut in 2003 at then-Arco Arena.

James also used the video to announce the upcoming release of his Nike retro shoe line. But he started out talking about the significance that returning to Sacramento has for him.

“I was a kid from Akron, Ohio, man, with a huge dream to play the game that he loved, and that’s to play the game of basketball,” James says in the video. “And for me to walk out on that floor in their old arena, which was Arco Arena at the time, as an 18-year-old kid, it was like a dream come true.

“I think about that every time I come back to this place. Every time I come back to Sac, man, it’s kind of like the first thing I think of – me being that 18-year-old kid, having a dream and making it become a reality.”

James, now a three-time NBA champion and four-time MVP, debuted on Oct. 29, 2003, in a nationally televised game from Arco Arena. Still two months shy of his 19th birthday, James had 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals in 42 minutes in a game the Kings won 106-92.

“I just remember thinking, man, this guy’s the real deal,” Gary Gerould, longtime Kings radio voice, said before Friday night’s game. “Not only was he sculpted – and he wasn’t as big as he is now, of course – but it was just like, this is a man coming out here. It’s not a teenager coming out of high school.

“I just remember thinking: He’s going to have an impact.”

James’ arrival in the NBA was an anticipated event – he had already appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated while in high school with the headline “The Chosen One” – and Gerould recalled wondering how much of the buildup was just hype.

“You’re talking about this guy could become one of the all-time greats, and you’re thinking, OK,” Gerould said. “And then, with the benefit of a few years, you say, ‘Those people knew what the heck they were talking about.’ 

James told reporters at the Cavaliers’ shootaround Friday morning that it was “going to be a little bit different” taking the floor at the new Golden 1 Center, but that “there’s a lot of reflection” when he plays in Sacramento, according to CSNBayArea.com.

James was also complimentary of center DeMarcus Cousins when asked about the Kings.

“It starts with the head of the snake and that’s big Cuz,” James said. “He’s the best big in our game.”

The Kings are far from the level of the 2003-04 team that welcomed James into the league. Sacramento finished 55-27 that season and reached the Western Conference semifinals, losing in seven games to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Before Friday’s game, Gerould said he revisited a highlight package of James’ debut – and that he became nostalgic as well.

“It reminded me how good the Sacramento Kings were at that time,” Gerould said. “It just kind of reinforced: This is where we want to get once again, eventually, after all these years of wallowing around.”

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