With hype-work out of the way, James focuses on Cavs

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 22, 2003

CLEVELAND - Now that Nike, HBO and MTV are out of the way, LeBron James has finally found time in his busy schedule for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

James, traveling from coast-to-coast like a pro player the past few weeks, will work out Friday for the Cavaliers, who will make the Akron high school superstar the No. 1 overall pick in next week's NBA draft.

Other commitments - his graduation ceremony as well as trips to the league's pre-draft camp in Chicago, Nike's offices in Oregon and for TV interviews in New York - have preoccupied the 6-foot-8 James, and so far prevented him from working out for the Cavaliers since they won the May 22 draft lottery.

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But this week, James is setting aside some time for the team.

On their fourth-floor practice court at Gund Arena, the team and new Cleveland coach Paul Silas will get to see James - in person, and on the basketball court.

''That's the game plan,'' general manager Jim Paxson said Wednesday.

It's hard to imagine that anything the Cavaliers see will change their minds on draft day.

Silas, who was hired by Cleveland earlier this month, has been eager for a firsthand look at what James can do on the floor.

To this point, all the former New Orleans coach has seen are videotaped highlights of James. Typically, it's been footage of him going in for a breakaway dunk or schooling some overmatched high school kid who had the misfortune of trying to cover James.

Silas does know enough about James' game that he envisions him playing point guard as a pro - or at least trying to. Silas plans to use James at the point this summer when the Cavaliers participate in leagues in Orlando and Boston.

Paxson, who thinks James can play any of four positions, likes the idea of getting the ball in his hands.

''Paul's thought is the right one,'' Paxson said. ''If he's going to be a point guard, let's start putting him in that position and get him handling the ball early on, and getting him that experience as soon as possible.''

Silas has only had casual phone conversations with the heralded 18-year-old. That's because James and his agent, Aaron Goodwin, have been taking care of the business side of being a projected NBA star and multimillion dollar corporation.

Immediately following his graduation from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School on June 7, James went to Chicago before flying to Beaverton, Ore., for meetings with Nike, the athletic shoe giant which signed him to a $90 million endorsement deal on the eve of the lottery.

James' visit to Nike and return to Akron was filmed by ESPN's ''The Life,'' which even spent time driving around his hometown with him in his infamous Hummer. ESPN's show will air next Tuesday.

Earlier this week, James did an interview in New York with Bob Costas for HBO's ''On The Record,'' which will feature a segment on James' meteoric rise on Friday's show.

HBO spokesman Ray Stallone said the network has been trying to get the interview since March.

And on Wednesday, James made an appearance on MTV's ''Total Request Live'' along with Magic Johnson, the player to whom he is most often compared.

The crazed schedule is nothing new for James, who has been in the media spotlight since he was a sophomore.

''Fame is nothing new to me,'' James tells Costas. ''I've sold out gyms since my freshman year in high school and now people ask if it is going to change now because I sold out NBA games. I don't think so. Because I've been through a lot of things through my whole life, and I've seen mostly everything.

''Even though I might be 18, I've seen a lot of things that a lot of grownups haven't seen. So the fame and glory and all those things are not going to make me big-headed. I know how to stay level-headed.''

Until now, James has handled the attention with amazing grace and humility, which has eased the Cavaliers' concerns about it becoming a distraction once he's a pro.

Paxson, who has teenage sons, said James' modesty is just another thing that sets him apart.

''My sons have had a pretty good upbringing and been around some positive influences, and to see how he has handled it is very impressive,'' Paxson said. ''It's a credit to him and the people he has been close to that he has handled it like he has.''