10 years later – Looking back at the rookie debuts of Miami’s Big 3 in 2003
It’s been 10 years since the top pick of arguably the best draft class of all-time played his first minutes in the league. Since then the two-time NBA Champion has racked up 30,374 regular season minutes, and tonight, LeBron James and two of his teammates, who were also drafted in 2003, will play their first minutes of the 2013/2014 season when they take on the Chicago Bulls. As they prepare for the season tip-off, we look back at the first NBA tip-offs of their careers a decade ago.
People remember the steal and dunk. Some remember that the 18 year old LeBron had an impressive 25 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 steals in his league debut. Only a few Kings fans remember that when the end of the game buzzer went off right after an airball from LeBron, Sacramento was the winner of the game by 14 points. Nobody cared about the final score or the airball and every question to every member of the opposing team after the game was about LeBron and the Kings had only positive reviews for the King.
“It was the first I’ve seen of him, and I was real impressed. He’s the real deal.” – Divac
“He’s a talent. Look at how he plays. The best thing about him is how he distributes the ball. He does it extremely well.” – Bobby Jackson
“He obviously was good tonight. He’s got a lot of talent. He gets to the basket, he sees the floor. For the first game, you had to be impressed.” – Coach Adelman
LeBron’s 25 point total was not only the most ever in a debut by a prep-to-pro up to that point, it was 15 points more than Jonathan Bender and Amare Stoudemire, 23 more than Kobe and 25 more than T-Mac.
Before Shaq took his talents to South Beach, the Heat were far from a championship looking team. They did have a very promising back court with the underrated Eddie Jones, Skip to My Lou Alston and the rookie Dwyane Wade but most people were looking at Pat Riley’s new $63 million investment, Lamar Odom, to turn things around in Miami.
Unfortunately for the Heat, the turnaround would have to wait as Lamar Odom sprained his ankle in the first few minutes of Miami’s season opener against the 76ers. With Eddie Jones struggling, the young Wade did his best against Allen Iverson and finished the game with a team high 18 points on 8 of 18 shooting. He also contributed 4 rebounds and assists but had 5 turnovers in the 15 point loss.
Things didn’t get much better in Wade’s 2nd game which took place on the anniversary date we are celebrating. The Heat took a 23 point beating from Boston as Wade only made 2 of 12 shots for 5 total points in 34 minutes of action.
Despite leading the league in All-Star votes every season, the hoopla around Vinsanity was dying in 2003 as Vince struggled to stay healthy while his attitude and mom started annoying the people of Toronto. With that said, Vince, under new coach Kevin O’Neill, was looking at this season as a redemption year and on opening night against his future team, the NJ Nets, he made a big statement that he was back and not ready to hand the team over to a 215 pound rookie. That rookie was Chris Bosh who played 25 productive minutes off the bench and scored 11 points on 5 of 8 shots and grabbed 4 boards and blocked 2 shots. Bosh and his teammates didn’t need to provide much offense as Vince went off for 39 points including 25 in the second half to lead the Raptors to a 3 point victory over Jason Kidd’s Nets.
DARKO & MELO
In case you were wondering how some of the other top picks in 2003 did on their openings nights, #2 pick Darko Milicic was a DNP and didn’t score his first points in the league until his 9TH GAME(!) where he scored 2 points. During Darko’s search for his first points, his Pistons did play LeBron and the Cavs. Darko played 1 minute and missed both of his shots while LeBron finished with 23 points and 9 assists in a win.
The other player that a very small minority felt should have been drafted with the #1 spot instead of LeBron was Carmelo Anthony. The Nuggets rookie had the pleasure of facing the San Antonio Spurs in his debut and the instant offense player put up 12 points on 4 of 15 shooting. He only played 30 minutes but that’s because he picked up 2 fouls in his first 2 minutes of the game. Luckily for Melo, the Nuggets were victorious and he was able to go home with a W and a cut right eye courtesy of Bruce Bowen.
Source: Sporting News & ESPN