It was a bad pass, grossly overthrown, which is why the basketball was bouncing out of bounds, about to become a turnover. From out of nowhere, a player sprinted it down with quick, long strides, leaping just before stepping on the sideline.
Back-to-the-basket he sailed, deftly grabbing the ball at the peak of a high bounce. He pulled it out of a tangle of his own limbs, spun around and fired a bullet toward an unsuspecting teammate standing under the basket, who was watching in awe like everyone else.
His pass threaded the defense and drilled its intended target between the numbers. Stunned, the teammate never even tried to catch it. The ball dropped harmlessly to the floor before the kid picked it up and laid it in for an easy basket.
As highlights go, perhaps this wasn't much. It wasn't a soaring dunk. It wasn't a violent blocked shot. It wasn't a three from another area code.
But 99 percent of high school players would never have been able to track the ball down.
Ninety-nine percent of the college players that could have grabbed it would have just called for a panicked timeout as they fly threw the air.
And 99 percent of NBA players who managed to retrieve it and throw it back into play wouldn't have had the memory to recall the exact location of the open teammate.
This was a play only 1 percent of 1 percent of 1 percent of all basketball players could make.
It was made by a 15 year old in Akron, Ohio.
Cleveland Cavaliers rookie LeBron James begins his professional basketball career Tuesday in an exhibition game against the Detroit Pistons, and you might as well take the moment to remember where you were. Consider the state of the NBA. Analyze everything you think makes a modern NBA superstar.
And then watch everything change.
Ever since that winter night in Northeast Ohio, when I first watched the new No. 23 play on the advice of an Ohio prep sleuth, I've been waiting for this.
Sure, it is just an exhibition game, a meaningless tune-up in which few veterans will see playing time.
But James is in the NBA. Officially. Finally.
I saw Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Lamar Odom, Tracy McGrady, Tyson Chandler, Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and basically every other American player of the last decade play numerous times while they still were in high school
LeBron James was appreciably better than every one of them as a high school player. He was considerably better than all but Garnett and McGrady.
It's not just me, either. You can't find a NBA scout who doesn't consider James the finest high school player they ever laid their eyes on.
The smart thing to do today is to temper your bets. If you are going to write about LeBron, you take a prove-it stance and predict that yes, James will be great at times but he won't dominate. You predict long-term greatness, but only after short-term struggles.
Forget it. It says here James is going to be great. Not just in the future; this very season.
It says here he averages over 20 a game. He'll hang half a hundred on someone at least once this season. As he continues to learn the game – understand he's never been coached – he will turn the league on its ear and become an even greater cultural phenomenon.
He was top 1 percent of 1 percent of 1 percent when he was 15. He is way better now, a fully filled out man-child with a jump shot.
He may not be Michael or Magic yet. But he is one of the better players in the NBA. Starting Tuesday night.
The prodigy finally is a pro.
- Sports & Recreation