There was the high school god—6'8", 240-pound senior LeBron James—sitting on the bench. And here was the high school nobody—5'76", 150-pound junior Brandon Weems—taking James's spot in the starting lineup.
If you squinted you could see a couple of slight differences.
James plans on being the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. Weems plans on watching the NBA draft.
James drives a $75,000 Hummer. Weems doesn't have a car. He doesn't even have a license.
James has a squadron of security guards, 781 listings bearing his name on eBay and a strict no-autographs-during-school policy. Weems also has a strict autograph policy: If anybody ever asks him, he plans on signing.
But Weems had one thing on Sunday that James did not—his high school eligibility.
James blew his (pending a possible appeal to the Ohio High School Athletic Association) when he accepted two free throwback jerseys ($845 value) from a Cleveland store on Jan. 25. Never mind that James has already been seen wearing at least a dozen throwback jerseys—including Jim Brown's, Pete Maravich's and Joe Namath's—for some reason he felt it was essential to have two more, Gale Sayers' and Wes Unseld's.
So Weems became the first player in four years at St. Vincent-St. Mary High in Akron to start in place of LeBron James. It was an odd sight: the one they call King James, in a gorgeous cream-colored suit and blinding bling-bling, rooting for the hobbit they call Dreamer, whose mother won't let him wear earrings and who doesn't own a necklace.
Of course the whole day at the University of Akron's sold-out Rhodes Arena was bizarre. Fans heckled Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Susan Vinella, whose paper broke the free-jerseys story. One woman held up a big sign that read, OHSAA, CAME FROM CHICAGO TO SEE LEBRON—PLEASE REFUND AIRLINE TICKETS. And there was the confused out-of-town fan who was overhead to say, "Why don't they get the tall kid to go out for the team?"
Ten TV cameras, 15 writers and Deion Sanders, reporting for CBS's The Early Show, followed James's every move on the bench. Weems meanwhile went unnoticed while helping his team beat Canton McKinley High, 63-62. He scored four points. James used to have that many getting off the bus.