CLEVELAND - LeBron James pressed the trophy high above his head and gave 20,000 Cleveland fans another chance to chant “M-V-P!”
This time, officially.
James was presented with the league’s top individual award on Tuesday night by commissioner David Stern before the Cavaliers hosted the Atlanta Hawks in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal.
James actually won the award on Monday and received it during an intimate ceremony at his alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron. Only James’ teammates, family members, friends and hundreds of students were able to attend in the school’s small gymnasium.
Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena was sold out for the Cavaliers’ first playoff game in nine days, and James made sure to thank fans during a brief pregame speech.
“You guys have a big part in this MVP trophy,” he said. “I know you’ve been waiting around for nine days. I’m ready to get back on the court.”
James, who was on the floor practicing more than three hours before tipoff, was in MVP form from the outset. He scored on a dunk for the Cavs’ first two points and finished the first quarter with 16 and five rebounds.
Stern praised the 24-year-old James, who won the award by a wide margin over Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, two of his teammates on the U.S. Olympic team that won a gold medal at last summer’s Beijing Olympics.
James is the first Cavaliers player to win the award and Cleveland’s first professional athlete to be chosen best in his sport since Browns quarterback Brian Sipe was NFL MVP in 1980.
Stern has been impressed with James’ ability to handle the extreme expectations that accompanied his hyped arrival in the pros six years ago.
“I’m always concerned when someone very young is overhyped and enormous pressures are put on him. I always feel the sense of protectiveness,” Stern said. “But I think we’ve seen LeBron and his team grow together, and he seems to be a worthy recipient of the endorsements and accolades he is receiving.
“As you watch over the years, you want your players to develop. But that’s been true as we watch a lot of our young men develop.”
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