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He started coaching with the Clippers when that conspicuous NBA landfill was located in San Diego. (Then, Clippers management allotted each player four pairs of socks for training camp. It was like playing for UNICEF.) Subsequently he coached in Charlotte, and when the Hornets moved to New Orleans, he was fired after the team went 47-35 in 2002-03. He took the Cleveland job in June '03, 24 days before the Cavaliers handed him a high school senior to build his future around.
"I didn't really know that much about him," Silas says. "I knew how athletic he was." As for James, who's surprisingly aware that the history of the NBA goes back further than, well, him, he walked into his professional career with more than a small measure of respect for his coach.
"Honestly, he's probably the best thing that could have happened to me," James says. "To have a coach like that, who's level-headed, who played in the NBA and won championships. You know, he'll let players play, and that was the one thing I love that I was concerned about, coming into the NBA, was to have a coach who would let me play my game.
"Coach, you know, he was a role player, but he had some talent around him up there in Boston."
They could not be more different. The instant superstar with the eight-figure shoe deal and the 61-year-old coach who started his NBA career in St. Louis when the town was still segregated. The exploding supernova of pure talent and the coach who always looked as if he would burst from the effort it took to rip away a rebound.
"It's changed so much, especially with your stars," Silas says. "They're more like rock stars now, mainly due to TV and the kind of media accessibility there is, which we didn't have. It all started with Mike, I think. He became global. He became mega. Now, LeBron has taken over from there."
Silas has chewed him out, especially about his defense, which is still a work in progress. During one game in Miami, when a sideline reporter asked what more LeBron could do, Silas said, "Well, he could get me a couple of rebounds in the second half." Still, he rarely has to tell James anything more than once.
"I had to have patience with him and teach him the fundamentals of our game," Silas explains. "And, then, only during the first season. Now, the second season, he came back, and he had it down. He's the quickest study I've ever been around. He knows immediately when he makes a mistake, and he came back with a confidence he didn't have last year."
As for all the rest of it--the screaming girls in hotel lobbies, the life carved out by a thousand spotlights-- Silas looks at it like a man gazing into another world, a younger one, where an ocelot on a leash would not turn a single head.
"I don't think I could've done what he's done," Silas says. "I think about it, and I wonder how he can keep his head about him and not really go crazy. He's just a special kid who understands who he is and how he fits. He can't see himself apart from the team, and that's geniuslike, almost."