Lakers' LeBron James returning to city where he made a dazzling debut

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

When LeBron James suits up for the Lakers on Sunday for the game against the Kings, it will mark the 20th anniversary of James’ NBA debut, and it will be in the same city of Sacramento that he lived up to all the hype.

The kid from Akron, Ohio, who had appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated while in high school and who had nicknames such as “The King” and “The Chosen One,” put on a display of skill and talent in that game that showed why he was being cast as a transcendent superstar.

The 18-year-old James had 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds and two steals against the Kings, who won the game 106-92. He was 12-for-20 shooting from the field and had just two turnovers in 42 minutes.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham was playing for the Detroit Pistons at that time and recalls how dominant James was in his debut.

“It was unbelievable,” Ham said after practice Saturday. “I think it was a nationally televised game. He came out and played well. Really well. So it's amazing how time flies. I wonder if he's aware of that. I'm sure people have hit him up to remind him.

“It's amazing, man, the journey from that point. All of the hoopla, the hype, the expectations that were placed on him at such a young age. For him to not only surpass them, but just create a whole new world. The 'LeBron James World' where he took everything and tenfold and super exceeded everyone's expectations. It's good to see him still here competing at a high level. I'm sure it'll bring back a lot of memories for him once he's made aware of it."

James, who’ll be 39 in December, is entering his 21st season and he is needed just as much now for the Lakers.

In the first two games, James is averaging 21 points, 7.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists a game.

Cam Reddish, 24, said he doesn’t have a “first memory” of James. He’s just been impressed by his iconic teammate.

“Like dominance,” Reddish said. “I feel like as a kid, he came in, what '03? I was born in '99. So, he was like my whole life he’s been dominant. Know what I’m saying? I think that’s pretty self-explanatory.”

Russell a mentor for Reddish

D’Angelo Russell has grown into a mentor of sorts for the Lakers, sharing his wisdom with his younger teammates, offering words of encouragement and advice.

Reddish, for one, appreciates what Russell has done for him.

The two talk frequently.

“I’m locker-mates with DLo, so we talk all the time,” Reddish said. “We talk about the game, the ways to score, ways to get involved. Impact the game any way possible. So, I would say DLo for the most part" has helped me the most.

Russell, who was drafted by the Lakers and has played for Brooklyn, Golden State and Minnesota, has seen a lot “of myself” in Reddish.

Russell said he didn’t really know “how to be a professional” and remembered how he got “judged by that.”

Entering his fifth season, Reddish is playing for his fourth team. He has played for the Lakers, Atlanta, New York and Portland.

Reddish was drafted 10th overall out of Duke by the Hawks. A lot was expected.

The "only thing you can change is your approach,” Russell said he has told Reddish. “So, forget the past and just change your approach and try to work on your professionalism and how you carry yourself. Understand the perception of you and what they say, what it looks like. Just understanding that as a young player. As a young player, it takes you to bump your head a few times to realize your perception.

"So now, you got an opportunity. You got a bunch of vets, a bunch of guys that can help you. Listen. Do more. Do the opposite of what you’ve been doing.”

With Jarred Vanderbilt sidelined because of left heel bursitis, Reddish has been getting some extra playing time.

He’s been asked to be active on defense and play with energy.

“Like, your role could change every day in the NBA,” Reddish said. “Injuries, a lot of things that can go into it. I just try to stay ready in all aspects, prepare for anything, prepare for the worst. Whatever my role is that night, that’s what it is and I do it to the best of my ability.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.