All eyes and cameras were focused on every move LeBron James made last night at Mellon Arena.
And he looked very sharp.
Unfortunately for the 8,112 fans who came to watch James play basketball only got a glimpse of him nattily attired in sweats and gold chains as he sat in his chair behind the Cleveland Cavaliers' bench.
But even when he isn't in uniform, James is the star attraction for the Cavaliers, a once-struggling organization that has blossomed into one of the marquee teams in the NBA thanks to James. He is the foundation of the franchise.
James didn't play in the preseason game because of a left pectoralis strain that occurred in Cleveland's 116-94 victory against Washington in an exhibition Monday night. Cleveland team physician Dr. Richard Parker advised James not to play because he might aggravate the injury in back-to-back games.
"This isn't LeBron's time," Cleveland rookie coach Mike Brown said. "We know what he can do."
Without James, the Cavaliers defeated the Boston Celtics, 96-86, as Luke Jackson led with 14 points, followed by Donyell Marshall's 13, Zydrunas Ilgauskas' 12 and Drew Gooden's 11. Boston's Paul Pierce had 18 and former Pitt center Mark Blount, who left school after his sophomore season, contributed 12 points and 5 rebounds in a solid performance.
The coaches substituted liberally and there was the typical ebb and flow of an NBA game with the teams trading scoring spurts. The Cavaliers held on at the end with rookies on the floor for both sides.
"You're looking at the young guys," Brown said. "You're not looking to win, just to get a win."
The Cavaliers are looking to make the playoffs for the first time since James' arrival three years ago from Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. The Cavaliers, 35-47 and 42-40 in James' first two seasons, spent a busy offseason bolstering their roster with proven veterans Larry Hughes, Alan Henderson, Damon Jones and Marshall.
Hughes averaged 22 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game last season for Washington. Jones is a 3-point specialist who scored 11.6 points in Miami. Marshall averaged 11.5 points and 6.6 rebounds for Toronto and Henderson had 3.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in Dallas.
But the catalyst will again be James, who has energized basketball in Cleveland and transformed the Cavaliers into one of the league's glamor teams. They will be on national television 32 times this season, with only Shaq and the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers with Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson making more appearances.
The Cavaliers are a huge hit in Cleveland, averaging 19,128 per game last season.
"Everybody connected with the Cleveland Cavaliers knows what LeBron James means to the franchise," Brown said. "He's be there when it counts."