Latest posts by Don McCormack (see all)
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There isn’t much, if anything, LeBron James has not accomplished on the basketball court.
In fact, safe to say, the soon-to-be 33-year-old roundball savant, now in his 15th NBA season, has done it all more than once.
With one exception.
From the first time he picked up a basketball as a youngster, through a stellar high school career at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, through three Olympics, through Saturday night’s win over Philadelphia at Quicken Loans Arena, James has been a member of his team’s starting lineup.
With the exception of a game played exactly one decade ago Monday, that is.
On Dec. 11, 2007, James came off the bench in a 118-105 Cavaliers’ victory against the Indiana Pacers in Cleveland, snapping the team’s six-game skid.
That game marked the first time in his then-333-game NBA career James peeled off his warmups after the opening tip.
It marked the first time he did not start a game since …
“Uh, never,” a smiling James told reporters after the game.
As in, 102 games at St. Vincent-St. Mary, 24 Olympic Games contests, 1,088 regular-season NBA matchups and 217 playoff games, not to mention countless youth, junior high and AAU contests.
Of course, as is almost always the case with anything LeBron does, there were circumstances.
That night 10 years ago against the Pacers, the 22-year-old James had missed the previous five games because of a sprained left index finger. Wearing a padded, protective glove on his hand, he made his return.
Coach Mike Brown had full intentions of inserting his dynamic young superstar immediately back into the starting lineup. However, in perhaps a portent of things to come, James had other ideas.
James said he asked Brown to not start him to negate any negative reaction teammate Anderson Varejao would receive from the sellout crowd. Varejao was making his season debut that night after ending a lengthy holdout and signing a three-year, $17 million contact.
During the sometimes-ugly back and forth, on-and-off negotiations with the team, Varejao, a high-energy forward, said he didn’t want to play for the Cavaliers again. Varejao, a 6-foot-10 forward from Brazil, and James were not the only Cleveland players making a return that night. Guard Larry Hughes was able to answer the bell after missing the previous 11 games with a bruised leg.
James, Varejao and Hughes all entered the game that night with 5:59 remaining in the first quarter and the Cavaliers leading, 15-11.
“I thought it would raise the intensity of the fans, having me, Larry and Andy come into the game at the same time — and it worked,” James told reporters in a postgame interview. “I thought by coming in with Andy, it might stop some of the boos Andy might get.
“(I was) just protecting my teammates.”
The insertion of James, Varejao and Hughes provided an immediate spark for the Cavaliers, who promptly went on a 13-0 run, outscoring Indiana 22-5 through the remainder of the quarter to build a 21-point lead and were never threatened.
While Hughes almost managed to almost steal the show with his 36-point performance on 13-of-17 shooting (the most points by a Cleveland non-starter since Phil Hubbard scored 37 in 1984), it was James’ 17 points, three rebounds, five assists, one steal and a block in 22:37 of play that were the headline.
Hughes led the team in scoring, but James’ plus-27 on the plus-minus scale topped all players.
“It was a good feeling,” James said. “You go through a stretch when you’re losing games and people were looking at us like we’re not a good team.”
As was the case that night 10 years ago, the current Cavaliers are playing short-handed, their recent 13-game winning streak not withstanding. Cleveland is without Isaiah Thomas, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert and Derrick Rose.
But one of his quotes after his lone non-starting performance a decade ago still rings true.
“We knew once we got all our guys back that it would be a totally different story,” he said.
While the return of injured players will all but assuredly provide a jolt of nitro for the current Cavaliers just as it did for their predecessors from 10 years ago, don’t expect to see LeBron as a member of the bench bunch.
“Nope, that was a one and done for me,” he said. “I will not be coming off the bench anymore.”