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'LeBron, the Sequel' Turns Into Another Big L.A. Hit

Ballyhooed rookie caps a 28-point effort with a crowd-pleasing dunk at the end of Magic's game.

July 28, 2003|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

King James made another royal visit to Los Angeles and found the basketball competition this time a bit different from Mater Dei.

LeBron James was a feature attraction at the "Midsummer Night's Magic" contest, the 18th annual charity game held by Laker executive Magic Johnson at Staples Center on Sunday. But the NBA's No. 1 draft pick wasn't the only one to impress from his team of league rookies facing NBA veterans.

After a slow start, James -- already the most celebrated 18-year-old in NBA history -- warmed up to his role as headliner with 28 points for the blue-jersey rookies in a 127-123 victory over the white-jersey veterans.

James punctuated the win with his trademark slam dunk, taking off nearly 10 feet from the basket and jamming the ball through as time ran out.

"I felt pretty good," said James, who shot 11 for 25 overall and made five of his six three-pointers in the second half.

When asked whether he learned anything from facing NBA competition, including his four pro summer league games in Boston and Orlando, Fla., James said, "that you need to play hard all the time. But we were mainly out there having fun."

The crowd, estimated by Johnson at more than 16,000, included tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, director John Singleton, the Sparks' Lisa Leslie and Nikki Teasley, L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks, comedian Steve Harvey (who "coached" the rookies while Johnson coached the veterans) and Dennis Rodman.

There was no immediate buzz, however, when the players took the floor.

James trotted quietly onto the Staples Center floor between former UCLA players Jason Kapono and Ray Young. His solitary moment of dash and flash came during one layup drill, when James threw the ball against the backboard and slammed it home.

During pregame introductions, former Clipper Darius Miles received one of the louder ovations. Other NBA players on hand included new Laker Gary Payton, Laker holdovers Derek Fisher and Kareem Rush, Clippers Keyon Dooling, Lamar Odom and Quentin Richardson, Jason Richardson, Shawn Marion, Ron Artest, Paul Pierce, Baron Davis, Antoine Walker. James' teammates included Carmelo Anthony (who scored a game-high 34 points), Wooden Award winner T.J. Ford and Chris Bosh.

James was content to pass early, so all the early high flying was done primarily by Miles, Davis, Jason Richardson (who had two windmill dunks) and Quentin Richardson, who scored 26 points.

But with 1:43 left in the half, James brought the crowd to life, dribbling through three players and skying to the rim for a one-handed slam dunk.

After the game Johnson praised James and Anthony, who led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA championship.

"They're silky smooth and have an understanding of the game. That's what I'm really impressed with," Johnson said. "They know how to get their shots and when to shoot it. I didn't know Carmelo could shoot with range. And I didn't know LeBron was that big and strong. They're both going to be outstanding."

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