Lakers forward Anthony Davis talks to teammate LeBron James during the fourth quarter of a 113-101 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Staples Center on Friday. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
LeBron James made his extravagantly hyped NBA debut with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Oct. 29, 2003, an 18-year-old just months out of high school. He showed no fear on the court that night: he scored 25 points, grabbed six rebounds, made four steals and earned nine assists in a loss at Sacramento’s ARCO Arena. But his precociously assured performance concealed what he truly felt.
“I will never forget that moment, being in ARCO and putting that Cavs uniform on, that wine and gold, for the first time and stepping on an NBA floor. It was just very unique,” he said. “Very unique — and I wish that moment on no other athlete, ever, because it was very nerve-wracking, I’ll tell you that.”
Four NBA championships and exactly 18 years later — a lifetime later, really — James faced the Cavaliers on Friday at Staples Center. He made an emphatic return to the Lakers’ lineup after missing two games because of a sore right ankle, scoring 26 points over nearly 38 minutes in an occasionally uneven defensive effort that evolved into a satisfying 113-101 victory over Cleveland in the opener of a four-game homestand.
He was amused to learn that at age 36, with 1,314 regular-season games and 266 playoff games on his odometer, he had managed to outscore the debut performance of his 18-years-younger self.
“I’m just trying to up myself. I’m getting better. Getting better with age,” he said. “Just like wine.
“It’s just a treat. I mean, to be able to play the game for this long and play it at the level I’m able to play it at, it’s just an honor and a treat. And I don’t take it for granted.”
James injured his ankle last Sunday in the Lakers’ home victory over Memphis, their first win of the season after two losses. He missed their overtime win at San Antonio on Tuesday and their awful defensive effort while squandering a 26-point lead in a loss at Oklahoma City on Wednesday.
His return Friday…