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Nets’ Kevin Ollie reflects on playing with a rookie LeBron James: ‘Unbelievable to see’

It didn’t take long for Kevin Ollie to realize LeBron James was legit.

Now the Nets’ interim head coach, Ollie was a backup point guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers team that a then-18-year-old James debuted with to furious fanfare in 2003.

“I was like, ‘There’s no way this kid is the age he said he is.’ I always wanted to check his birth certificate,” Ollie said Sunday before the Nets faced James’ Lakers at Barclays Center.

“Just from a physical standpoint, it was unbelievable to see him at that age, but then at a mental standpoint, to see how he took on all of the media requests, the hype of being on Sports Illustrated at that age and the different things that come with that, and to surprise all the expectations is just beautiful for him.”

The first overall pick in that 2003 draft, James arrived with practically unprecedented expectations, having been hailed “The Chosen One” on an SI cover as an Ohio high-schooler more than a year earlier.

James averaged 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game in 2003-04 en route to NBA Rookie of the Year honors and a ninth-place finish in MVP voting.

Now in his 21st season, the still-excellent James boasts four NBA championships, four MVP trophies, 20 All-Star selections and the NBA record for career points. The 39-year-old entered Sunday averaging 25.2 points 7.3 rebounds and 8.1 assist per game.

“It just shows the great basketball player he is, but how much he loves the game,” Ollie said. “I don’t think people see that enough, how much he loves the game, and just [his] pure joy of competing, and doing the different things that he does in the dark when nobody’s watching.  He’s a pro, a consummate pro, on and off the basketball court.”

Ollie, 51, spent only one season with James before joining the 76ers before the 2004-05 season, but more than two decades later, he still remembers James’ NBA debut, when the teenager recorded 25 points, nine assists and six rebounds against the Kings.

“We lost that game, but just to see him take on all that and just do it with pride, do it with greatness, do it with humility, I think that’s one of the things he don’t get a lot of [credit for],” Ollie said.

“He has humility over ego, and to be a superstar like he is, to have that is a great attribute to him, to his family, how they raised him.”


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