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'He's the real deal'

CLEVELAND -- Kick off your sneakers for good, relax and enjoy retirement, Michael. Looks like this LeBron James kid just might be able to handle it from here.

For one game, the Cleveland Cavaliers' 18-year-old rookie
sensation soared above his mountainous hype with a breathtaking NBA
debut Wednesday night at Sacramento.

Facing one of the league's best teams, 17,000 screaming fans and
enormous expectations, "King James" proclaimed his arrival with
25 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals with a blend
of flash and fundamentals.

James did it all in 43 minutes of his first "real" game since
taking Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary High School to a state title.

After months of nearly nonstop buildup, the 6-foot-8 point guard
delivered a message to any doubters: Believe.

"He's the real deal," Sacramento center Vlade Divac said.

There was but one glitch on an otherwise stellar night: The
Cavaliers lost 106-92 to the Kings.

That hardly mattered. This was James' coming out party, a
preview of things to come and perhaps a figurative, no-look pass of
the torch from Jordan to James.

Whoa. Let's not get ahead of ourselves here -- it is only one
game. But James was more than Jordanesque in his pro debut.

Jordan, then just a gangly rookie from North Carolina with a
full head of hair, scored 16 points on 5-of-16 shooting in his
first game for the Chicago Bulls in 1984.

James had 12 points in the first quarter and 19 by the end of
the third with an array of jumpers, running one-handers, finger
rolls, driving layups and a thunderous right-handed dunk that
resounded from Arco Arena to Gund Arena.

"He let everybody know, 'I'm here. I can do it,'" said Tracy
Lockhart, 29, an Ohio fan who stayed up late to watch James on
television.

Wednesday's ESPN telecast of James' NBA debut earned a 2.8 rating, higher than all but one of ESPN's 69 regular-season games last season. The rating was 65 percent higher than the 1.7 rating for the Los Angeles Lakers at Portland opener last year.

The Cavaliers' season opener earned a 12.3 share in local TV ratings, which represents 452,630 viewers and a staggering 433 percent increase from last year's opener.

James' debut also triggered another rush for tickets to see the
Cavaliers play at home. Team president Len Komoroski said salesmen
were busier than usual inside the Gund on Thursday fielding ticket
requests.

Since May 22, when the Cavs won the NBA draft lottery and the
rights to pick James, the team has barely stayed ahead of ticket
demand. They've nearly tripled their season-ticket base --
reportedly around 3,000 a year ago.

"Obviously, people have been excited," Komoroski said. "But I
think there were some waiting to see if it was for real. I think a
lot of those questions have been answered."

Any lingering doubts may have vanished during a one-minute
stretch near the end of the first period when James, who played his
second game Thursday night at Phoenix, was at his best.

With the Kings leading by 12, and ready to run away, James stole
a pass from Mike Bibby and passed to Cavs' forward Carlos Boozer for a dunk. Seconds later, he made another steal and went in for
his own rim-rattling slam. He immediately picked the Kings clean
again, got a long pass and was on his way for another dunk, when he
stopped.

Instead of scoring an easy basket, James patiently waited for
trailing teammate Ricky Davis, who took a shovel pass from James and threw down a spinning, reverse jam.

"That's the play everyone around here is talking about,"
Komoroski said.

The dish to Davis underscored James' composure and
unselfishness, a trait that has helped him blend in well with his
teammates.

"'Bron just wants to make his team better," said Dru Joyce II,
James' high school coach for two years. "He's not caught up in the
stats. He cares more about winning than anything else. I know he's
happy he played well, but I'm sure he would have liked to win."

James' gaudy start may elevate expectations even more. He'll
have to match his success against the Kings -- and then do it again.

"It was a great debut," Joyce said. "But this is not about
one game. One game does not an All-Star make."

True. But for James, one game has never meant so much.