LeBron James has become just the second high school player to be selected as the top pick in the annual National Basketball Association draft. The first was Kwame Brown selected by the Washington Wizards a few years ago. Eight international players were picked in the first round.
Only one in about 8,000 high school basketball players ends up playing in the National Basketball Association, and the majority of those play in college first. For 18-year-old LeBron James, the jump to the professional elite has come amazingly fast.
James stands 2.3 meters and weighs 109 kilograms. He played high school basketball in Ohio, the same state that is home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland knows James well and made him the first choice Thursday after winning last month's draft lottery. NBA commissioner David Stern made the announcement in New York's Madison Square Garden. "With the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select LeBron James," he said.
Even though he has yet to score a point in the NBA, the player dubbed "King James" is being touted as a "once in a generation" athlete and practically a lock to someday end up in basketball's Hall of Fame. He has great awareness on the court and a vast array of skills that may allow him to play three positions.
James is expected to be such a superstar that Nike recently gave him a huge $90 million shoe contract. While he thrilled to be the first pick, James says he just wants to help the Cavaliers improve. This is a long time dream to finally accomplish this and it finally shows that the hard work has finally paid off for me. Last year we [Cleveland] were not pretty good. But I feel like we can get better every day as a team," he said. "That is going to be my biggest goal this year. I am not for individual things, I am all about the team."
LeBron James will certainly receive plenty of attention from established stars as he tries to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers out of the doldrums, as they won just 17 of 82 games this past season. New Cleveland coach Paul Silas says James has the real potential to be great. "He talks about winning. He talks about making the team better. If that is his mindset, he can only get better. He can only be as good as he is going to be," he said.
Serbian player Darko Milicic was selected second by the Detroit Pistons, the highest pick ever for a European player. The Denver Nuggets chose Carmelo Anthony, who decided to turn pro after leading Syracuse University to the national collegiate title in his freshman year. Anthony feels his skills are among the best in the draft. "I am an all-around player. I think I can pretty much do everything from the one position all the way down to the power forward position. I am not going to say I am ready to play at center yet. But I can do what I can do. Basketball is a game of fun. And if you are not having fun, there is no need for you to be playing," he said.
As a sign the NBA is becoming more and more a global game, the first round of this year's draft had eight international players selected. Last year, six international players went in the first round, including top overall pick Yao Ming from China, who was chosen by the Houston Rockets. During the 2002-2003 season, one-seventh of the league's players, nearly 15-percent, came from countries other than the United States, the acknowledged home of basketball.