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Like Caitlin Clark, LeBron James started pro career 0-4

USA TODAY
                                Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James during game five of the first round for the NBA playoffs at Ball Arena on April 29.
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USA TODAY

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James during game five of the first round for the NBA playoffs at Ball Arena on April 29.

LOS ANGELES >> LeBron James has never met Caitlin Clark.

But the Lakers superstar understands what the WNBA rookie might be going through.

Like Clark, James was once a young basketball player who entered the professional ranks with unprecedented hype in 2003, then had to battle through some ups and downs before his career got on track.

Now, 21 years later, James is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, a four-time champion and a four-time league MVP.

“I’m rooting for Caitlin because I’ve been in that seat before,” James said on today’s episode of his “Mind the Game” podcast with JJ Redick. “I’ve walked that road before. I hope she kills.”

James said he also sees similarities between Clark’s situation and that of his oldest son, Bronny James, who took part in the NBA draft combine last week after playing one year at USC.

“I’m getting the same thing from watching my son, who’s a 19-year-old, kind of getting a lot of animosity and hatred towards him when he’s just a kid trying to live out his dream,” James said. “You know, there’s a very small number of men and women that actually get to live out their dream of playing a professional sport. And we have grown-ass men and women out here doing whatever they can to try to make sure that does not happen.”

“That is the weirdest thing in the world, but it is what it is, and I’m glad that Caitlin has a great head on her shoulders,” he said.

James became a household name as a two-time Gatorade National Player of the Year at St. Vincent–St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio. After graduating in 2003, he entered the NBA draft and was selected No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Through his first four professional games — the same number Clark has played with the Indiana Fever at this point — James averaged 15.2 points with 8.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 3.2 turnovers. Solid numbers for a rookie, but not as mind-blowing as some may have expected or hoped. Plus, the Cavaliers lost all four of those games.

James finished the season averaging 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists, all career lows, as the Cavaliers ended with a 35-47 record.

“There’s video evidence of my teammates basically saying, like, ‘He’s not ready’ or … ‘we’re not putting all our faith in an 18-year-old kid’ or ‘all this hype we’ve been hearing,’” James told Redick. “So my own teammates that I had to be on the floor with, practicing with, on the planes with, in the locker room, in game situations just had this kinda — you don’t wanna say hate, but just like animosity like toward me and what I could provide.”

“And I didn’t even come in with that — I came in with the ‘narrative,’ but I didn’t come in with that type of aura” as Clark, he said.

Clark became a megastar during her four seasons at Iowa. The Division I college basketball all-time leading scorer led the Hawkeyes to back-to-back NCAA Tournament championship games the past two seasons, with her 2024 March Madness games drawing record ratings for ESPN.

She was drafted No. 1 overall by the Fever last month, and her debut with the team was the highest-rated WNBA game broadcast on ESPN. Clark’s stats over her first four games are somewhat similar to James’: 17 points, four rebounds, 5.5 assists, 0.8 steals and 6.5 turnovers.

Still, it’s a far cry from the numbers Clark posted last season at Iowa (31.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 4.7 turnovers). And, like the 2003-04 Cavaliers, the Fever are off to an 0-4 start.

“People need to realize the Indiana Fever, this is the second year in a row they had the No. 1 pick,” James said. “So do you all know what that mean? That mean they’re not that good. … People are just like crazy about ‘[Clark] should be doing this and they should be doing that, if she’s so great’ — it’s still a team game, people. It is still a team game.”

James credited Clark for being the reason the WNBA is allowing charter flights for its teams for the first time this season. And he said the league will continue to benefit from Clark’s presence.

“Don’t get it twisted, don’t get it f——- up. Caitlin Clark is the reason why a lot of great things is gonna happen for the WNBA,” James said. “But for her individually, I don’t think she should get involved on nothing that’s being said, just go, have fun, enjoy.”

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