LeBron James circa 2003 complete with headband faces off against the Bulls.
LeBron James circa 2003 complete with headband faces off against the Bulls.

The day Lebron announced himself to the world

AS LeBron James prepares to make his regular season debut as an LA Laker, NBA legend Chris Webber has reflected on The King's first step into the league.

Fifteen years ago this month, an injured Webber watched from the sidelines as an 18-year-old James led the Cleveland Cavaliers onto an NBA court for the first time.

The Akron, Ohio native was the most hyped teenager in basketball history, making the leap from high school straight into the big leagues, facing off with Webber's Sacramento Kings in his first game.

But initially, Webber said he was sceptical.

"I remember thinking to myself, because a few NBA players told me literally … he's going to go to 10 championships … I was like 'how can you say this about a person out of high school?'," Webber, a fellow former No.1 draft pick, said.

"I think the atmosphere (in the arena), putting myself in the moment was awesome.

"I was hurt, but our team - we had some big goals - and here's this young kid - no one had this much pregame publicity in his life and can he handle it?"

After James poured in 25 points with nine assists, six rebounds and four steals on the Kings' Arco Arena floor, Webber said any doubts about James' talents were washed away.

"I remember, After watching the game, calling a friend of mine - actually it was (former Golden State Warriors teammate) Billy Owens - and saying 'ok, maybe you know what you're talking about'," the 1994 NBA Rookie of the Year said.

"I remember just thinking how poised he was, thinking this kid plays like a two or three-year veteran.

"I remember thinking to myself 'wow, he's a great leader and he's leading by acting like he's not the leader in a lot of these situations'.

"I saw him take a back seat on some plays, he gave a couple of guys a pass when he could have just dunked down the middle of the lane."

Webber's Kings won the game 106-92, but James left a lasting impression on the 208cm five-time All Star, who now works as an analyst for TNT's NBA coverage.

"I was as impressed with his first game - even though he's much better today - as I am with his career today," Webber said.

"I don't think there ever has been an athlete in any sport that has had the praise, the pressure, or the money - he signed a $100m (it was US$90 million) deal with Nike before he played one game and he was probably underpaid.

"That, to me is one of the most remarkable things about LeBron, how great he is, yes, but wow, he matches the expectations of being that great."

James, now 33 and a three-time NBA champion and four-time MVP, is embarking on a new chapter in the City of Angels after signing a four-year, US$154 million contract in the offseason.

After a pre-season packed with expectation, James' Lakers career will officially tipoff next Friday, October 19, 1.30pm (EDT), when his side travels to Portland to take on the Trailblazers.

Fifteen years on, the hype is still there for the best basketballer on the planet.