He was The Chosen One. ESPN broadcasted his high school games, and he was the next Michael Jordan. The moment he entered the Cleveland Cavaliers facility, LeBron James was untouchable; at least for most people. Who better to treat LeBron like any other rookie than a guy who has nothing to lose and isn't that plugged into the media frenzy in the States - journeyman Bruno Sundov.
”You'll get us traded”
Sundov was a rotation guy, in the Association since 1998. After stints with the Mavericks, Pacers, and Boston, he found himself in Cleveland in 2003. Everyone was excited about LeBron, but according to Sundov, that excitement turned into fear. The way everyone danced around LeBron was "a bit insane" according to the Croatian player.
“It's something the veterans do to rookies to establish respect for the older players. It goes on for a month, it's nothing special. LeBron shows up, and everybody's 'Wow, that's LeBron. [He has a] $100 million contract with Nike.' That's an 18-year-old kid. Nobody wanted to talk to him. I was like 'What's this about?'” Sundov shared on Podcast Inkubator. So he decided to break the ice by treating LeBron like any other rookie.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas was sitting next to Sundov when he bossed LeBron around. He elbowed Sundov and told him he was an idiot and they were both ”going to get traded.” But the Croatian player wasn't concerned about that. It was just to make LeBron feel like one of the guys, that not everyone is going to walk around on eggshells all the time.
What happened next showed that despite all the attention and money, LeBron didn't forget his place. James was humble and ready to follow tradition.
”He said 'Yeah, no problem.' and the whole locker room was in shock. I assumed he was going to blow me off and he actually asked me what kind of coffee I drink and added he'll bring newspapers as well. I told Ilgauskas 'No way he actually does it.' The next morning, I'm coming to the locker room - donuts, coffee, and newspapers, all there.”
LeBron waved at Sundov and asked if the coffee was to his liking. He jokingly said it was a bit hot and James could've blown on it to cool it a bit. Everyone loosened up a bit, and James was ready to take the NBA by storm.
Humble and eager to learn
No matter how great you are, the jump to the NBA is challenging for anyone. Even more so if you're coming straight from high school. Yet, from the first practice, everyone acted like LeBron runs the show.
”From the first practice, it was 'this is your show.' Very little strategy, and no plan to integrate LeBron into a system. An 18-year-old kid. The thing is, he wanted to be coached, he wanted to learn.“
James had a level of self-awareness much older players never reach - he knew how much he didn't know. Sundov said you could immediately see the raw talent was there, but what made LeBron great was his character. ”Great player, amazing person, insanely dedicated. An example of how someone becomes a superstar.”
Making LeBron feel like one of the guys was an important part of it. Just like anyone else, he had to pay his dues. And LeBron did it like he does anything else - he overachieved and threw in newspapers.