LAS VEGAS -- On any other mid-July day, Andrew Wiggins playing against NBA-level competition for the first time at the Summer League would be the biggest story in the league. But on Friday, the No. 1 overall pick making his debut wasn't even the biggest story surrounding the Cleveland Cavaliers. Not by a long shot.
On Friday morning, Wiggins and the Cavs went through shootaround. Then, at about 9:45 a.m., the team found out -- along with the rest of the world -- the news that shook the very foundation of the NBA: LeBron James was coming home. Since his days as a high school phenom in Ontario, Wiggins has been touted as the best pro prospect since James, and now, he's going to play with him. Throughout the opening day of Summer League, the tension was palpable as a who's-who of NBA reporters, execs and fans in a packed-to-the-brim Cox Pavilion tried to process what they had read in James' Sports Illustrated essay. No. 23 Cavaliers jerseys peppered the bleachers.
Once the game started, the focus turned to Wiggins. For the most part, he did not disappoint. Nothing much matters in these Summer League games -- the likes of Qyntel Woods and Josh Selby have taken home MVP honors in years past. For what it's worth, the Cavs squad (which also featured 2013's much-maligned No. 1 pick, Anthony Bennett), edged out the Milwaukee Bucks 70-68. After a slow start, Wiggins found his footing and finished with 18 points, showing off a lightning-quick first step and a hard edge on the defensive end, going at the Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo and the player whose name is mentioned the most with Wiggins', No. 2 pick Jabari Parker.
"It's been an exciting day," Wiggins said after the game. "We had a great first practice at shootaround, and then, obviously, we heard the good news about LeBron. It's a great feeling, knowing that the best player in the game today is coming to your team. It's going to be a great learning experience for everyone."
Wiggins has plenty of reason to be excited. He was drafted by a Cavaliers team with plenty of young talent but no playoff experience. They were already set up to compete with a core of Wiggins, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. But it was going to be a long process before they became serious contenders. James' decision changes everything. In the short term, the four-time MVP makes the Cavs instant title favorites in the East. And long-term, Wiggins could not ask for a better mentor.
The weight of the expectations placed on Wiggins as a No. 1 pick with superstar-level talent is nothing compared to the scrutiny James has faced in his career. There's nothing the world of pro basketball can throw at Wiggins that James hasn't been through. James has been hyped as the future of basketball since appearing on the cover of SI as a 16 year old. He has lived up to those impossible expectations and then some. He has been called a choker and proved those doubters wrong. He has had his jersey burned in the streets of the city he called home for seven years, and won those fans back this week. James' presence transcends the cliché of "veteran leadership." The transition from college star to NBA star can be a rough one, and Wiggins will have the best resource in the world whenever he needs guidance on that journey.
The only person more excited about the Cavs' future than Wiggins is head coach David Blatt. A first-time NBA coach who rose through the ranks of Euroleague and international ball, Blatt is suddenly the most high-profile rookie coach in NBA history. To leave proven winner Erik Spoelstra to play for someone who has never coached a second of NBA basketball as a head or assistant coach is a massive leap of faith, just as leaving a veteran team with two fellow future Hall of Famers to join such a young roster was a gamble for James. Like Wiggins, Blatt is positive he's going to make it work.
"[James] is a basketball player and I'm a basketball coach," Blatt said bluntly after the game. "We're going to work together beautifully."
For his part, Wiggins is eager to soak up as much knowledge from his new teammate as possible and believes he'll have no trouble playing alongside him despite their similar skill sets.
"I think my game style means I can play with anybody," Wiggins said. "I don't think I have to change the way I play. I'm an unselfish player."
Until the Cavaliers win their first NBA championship, Friday will serve as the franchise's high-water mark. They got back the greatest player of his generation after four painful years and caught their first glimpse of the 19-year-old who may one day succeed him. It was tough for anyone to contain their giddiness.
"I've coached close to 1,000 games in my career," said Blatt. "But I felt like a little kid out there, to be honest with you."