Silver 107, Black 102
There's probably only one other basketball player who can pack the house at MCI Center with celebrity fans -- and he was one of them last night at the Capital Classic.
LeBron James, the top high school player in the nation and likely No. 1 overall selection in June's NBA draft, said goodbye to high school by scoring a game-high 34 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and earning co-MVP honors in a losing effort in the 30th annual high school all-star game.
James's Black team was defeated, 107-102, by the Silver squad. But no one in the crowd of 18,424 -- which included film director Spike Lee, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp, Syracuse guard Carmelo Anthony and James's idol, Michael Jordan -- seemed to care. They, and nearly everyone else in the building, had come to see James's final game as an amateur.
"If it would have been my last game for St. Vincent-St. Mary, ending with a loss, I'd be upset," said James, referring to the Akron, Ohio, school he led to a state championship this past season, "I was just here to have fun. I loved every minute of it."
Soon James is expected to announce what everyone has suspected for months -- he will enter the NBA draft. By playing in last night's game, James violated NCAA first-year eligibility rules, all but guaranteeing he will go pro.
Also for the 18-year-old to consider is a weighty shoe contract, with Nike (the Capital Classic sponsor), Adidas and Reebok vying for his services.
"Within the next two weeks, I'm going to sit down with my family and make a decision about what I'm going to do," James said earlier this week.
After the game, James was informed he had been chosen as the game's most valuable player. But instead of accepting the award alone, he insisted that he share the trophy with Michigan State recruit Shannon Brown, who scored 27 points and had eight assists for the Silver team. After a few moments, the pair was introduced to the crowd as co-honorees. It was typical of James's unselfish play.
The crowd came to watch James dominate the game. And he often did, with a performance replete with imaginative dunks and highlight-reel, no-look passes that drew oohs and ahs. But he also missed three three-pointers in the final 1 minute 42 seconds in a desperate attempt to lead his team to victory.
"The game was close because of the competitiveness of the players," Brown said. "Everyone wanted to play as well as they could and as hard as they could."
James concluded his sublime high school career in the same city and on the same floor where Jordan played the final two years of his professional career. Jordan spoke to the national game players prior to tip-off.
"We wanted to go out right onto the practice court and play after that speech," James said. "That motivated us."
The hoopla surrounding James overshadowed the fact that 19 of the nation's top high school players also competed in the game.
For the Black team, All-Met Player of the Year Linas Kleiza (Montrose Christian) scored 16 points and had 10 rebounds and Duke recruit Kris Humphries added 16 points and 12 rebounds. Pacing the Silver team were Brown and guard Chris Paul, a Wake Forest recruit who shot 8 of 11 for 18 points and had five assists.
Past Capital Classics have featured basketball icons such as Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Moses Malone, Grant Hill and Magic Johnson. But none of those players, at least as high school seniors, asked for a $10 million insurance policy -- which game organizers paid -- nor did they generate the fan hysteria and media frenzy LeBron James has.
"It's just like guarding someone else except they don't get as many calls," said Kansas recruit J.R. Giddens, who had to defend James. "I thought I played good defense and did the best that I could do, but he just makes so many shots."
Last night's crowd surpassed that of the previous two games combined (7,473 last year and 8,233 in 2001). Children at the game wore replica St. Vincent-St. Mary jerseys bearing James's name and No. 23.
Capital Classic organizers issued more than 300 media credentials, with reporters traveling from as far away as London. Scouts from each of the NBA's 29 teams were here, too.
But turning professional, signing with an agent and inking a shoe deal all come later. First, he will sit down with his family and work things out.
"After that everything will start flowing," James said.