Before They Played for Pay . . .
LeBron James, Miami Heat, NBA Champion 2012

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  This story was written in December 2002, when LeBron James and his high school team came to the Palestra to play Maureece Rice and Strawberry Mansion. It was quite a night . . .

Rice-James duel spices up blowout

Dec 23, 2002


  It was as if someone changed the wood to asphalt.

  Basketball alone was no longer satisfying the overflow crowd last night at the Palestra a shade before 8:30 in the feature attraction of the fourth annual Scholastic Play-By-Play Classic, and that was when a playground game of one-on-one broke out in the fourth quarter.

  LeBron James , the nation's top player, vs. Maureece Rice, Philly's most publicized player.

  If you're not a fan of greed, you're to be commended. But if you attended the game or saw it on TV, you must admit: The extended battle of take this, take that between James and Rice was wonderfully entertaining, and likely what people will remember most.

  Of greater importance, it enabled to Rice to leave the hallowed building with his reputation only partially tarnished.

  James, a 6-8 guard rumored to be bound straight for the NBA, and his team, St. Vincent-St. Mary, of Akron, Ohio, did an 85-47 number on Rice and Strawberry Mansion.

  Rice, aka "Kid Dynamite" or "The Scorelord," soon will surpass Wilt Chamberlain as the most prolific point-maker in city history. But he had no points after one quarter. No points after two. No points deep into the third.

  By finishing with 13 (career total 2,140; Wilt had 2,206), he actually was able to smile before leaving the building. At least a little.

  In the fourth quarter, the only thing missing was a Wild West soundstage.

  As their teammates, with reverence, mostly got out of the way and watched, and the spectators stood and roared as one, Rice and James staged a vintage duel until both departed with 1 minute, 39 seconds left. In true Philadelphia tradition, the stars' acts of unselfishness - i.e. passes - were playfully booed.

  In all, James shot 7-for-16 (3-for-9 on treys; two dunks) and 9-for-11 for 26 points. He added eight rebounds, five assists and seven steals. He had six fourth-quarter points. The 6-foot Rice shot 5-for-17 (2-for-8 on treys) and 1-for-2 from the line. He added five rebounds, one assist and two steals. He had 11 fourth-quarter points.

  One could not help but think Rice's evening might have turned out vastly different if he had made his first shot. But after using a crossover dribble to almost break James' ankles, Rice missed about a 12-foot wing jumper.

  He missed two more shots in the first quarter. Three in the second. His first two in the third, including a follow-up dunk.

  Finally, as James took a breather, Rice swished an almost-straight-on trey with 0:47 showing in the third quarter.

  "I was surprised," Rice said of his futility. "I never played in a game where I didn't have a basket until almost the end of the third quarter. I was frustrated at halftime. I had to calm down, forget about the crowd. I wasn't used to that. There was a lot of noise. "

  When Rice afterward met the media (at least one member came from as far away as Los Angeles), he was wearing a T-shirt featuring Chamberlain's picture from his NBA days. "PHILA" and "13" on the front of the jersey were formed with glitter.

  When asked about James, Rice said he thought he was overrated from a glimpse he'd gotten of a recent nationally televised game.

  "But he's a good player," Rice said. "He backed up all the hype. "

  Aside from acknowledging he and his teammates were nervous early, Rice said his woes stemmed mostly from not being aggressive. When he saw his shot was off, he said, he became too content with trying to feed his teammates.

  Of the duel, he said: "Because he's so tall, I figured his feet were not that good. I felt I could take him off the dribble. "

  Mansion was not a good match for James and Co. The Knights have no confident ballhandlers and St. V-St. M was excellent at stepping into passing lanes and double-teaming anyone who showed a hint of shakiness.

  Mansion committed 23 turnovers and shot 16-for-45. Coach Gerald Hendricks stopped shy of saying his players were scared, settling instead for tentative.

  "If we could have relaxed and had fun, we could have given them a better game," he said.

  There was much to see.

  James' mother sat right behind the St. V-St. M bench, wearing a jersey identical to LeBron's with "LeBron's Mom" on the back, and she was highly animated. She handed out fans with LeBron's picture on the front right before the game. At one point she drew heavy razzing from those nearby when she stood up during a timeout and went into assorted gyrations directed at nearby Mansion rooters.

  At halftime, Allen Iverson, wearing a blue Sixers warmup, slid into a press-table seat behind the St. V-St. M bench.

  At the other end, wearing a Mansion replica jersey, was Debra Rice, Maureece 's mom.

  She said she agonized watching 'Reece struggle and kept hoping "things would turn around. "

  She added: "He'll be OK. He's a strong person. He stuck with LeBron James very well, so that should give him confidence. It was a rough beginning, but I was proud how he came back from it." *