Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers, The Whiteboard

The Whiteboard: Names and faces from LeBron James’ first career game

Jabari Smith Jr. gave us a reminder of just how long ago LeBron James made his NBA debut. Here are the players he played with and against.

Since turning 38, LeBron James has been turning back the clock — in the seven games since his birthday he’s already hit 40 points three times, averaging 37.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game. He may look like he’s back in his mid-20s but you can’t avoid the reminders of just where he is in his career.

On Monday night against the Houston Rockets, LeBron put up 48 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds. Leading the way for the Rockets was Alperen Sengun, who put up 33 points, 15 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 blocks. Sengun, who is 20 years old and in his second NBA season, was just 13 when LeBron recorded his famous chasedown block on Andre Iguodala to help secure the Cavaliers’ first title. He was nine years old when LeBron James won his first title with the Miami Heat. And he was just one year old when LeBron made his NBA debut.

Sengun’s teammate, rookie Jabari Smith Jr. reminded LeBron before the game that his father, Jabari Smith Sr., had played against him in his very first NBA game. Smith Jr. was six months old at the time.

The world was expecting greatness when LeBron James made that debut, a 106-92 loss to the Sacramento Kings — putting up 25 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 steals. But the rest of the players on the court probably didn’t realize they were participating in a turning point in the history of the NBA.

Who else was on the court for the NBA debut of LeBron James?

The rest of the Cavaliers’ starting lineup that night featured several players whose (comparatively meager) legacies would become intertwined with James. There was Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who would become the teammate LeBron assisted most over the course of his career. There was Carlos Boozer, who would depart for the Utah Jazz at the end of that season under ignominious circumstances. There was Ricky Davis, noted cult favorite and triple-double clown. And there was fellow high-school-to-NBA phenom and future podcast host Darius Miles.

The Cavaliers’ bench that night included J.R. Bremer, DeSagana Diop, Chris Mihm and Kevin Ollie — a list of obscure NBA players who could be the answers to a slew of trivia questions:

  • Which players were teammates of both Kobe Bryant and LeBron James? (Mihm)
  • Which NBA players appeared in exactly 100 games in their careers? (Bremer)
  • Which former NBA players have won an NCAA National Championship as a coach? (Ollie)
  • Which players have appeared in 500 or more NBA games, averaging 2.0 or fewer points per game? (Diop)

On the other side, the Kings were beginning the last full season of Chris Webber’s run with the Kings. He didn’t play in his game, but the rest of their starting lineup — Vlade Divac, Brad Miller, Peja Stojakovic, Doug Christie, Mike Bibby — featured a slew of familiar faces from that era. All five scored in double figures, joined by Bobby Jackson who contributed 16 off the bench. Gerald Wallace, Tony Massenburg and Darius Songaila all played off the bench. Jabari Smith Sr. was on the roster but did not appear.

A wider look around the NBA that night includes more markers of the era. High-scorers for the night included Paul Pierce, Larry Hughes, Tim Duncan, Jermaine O’Neal, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Keith Van Horn, Vince Carter, Zach Randolph (for Portland) and Stephen Jackson (for the Hawks). In all, 11 games were played that night — just one team, the Kings, broke 100 points and just eight broke 90.

Pre-LeBron James was a different NBA.

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