CLEVELAND Russell vs. Chamberlain. Bird vs. Magic. Jordan vs. Everyone.
Rivalries have always given the NBA some extra bounce. On Wednesday night, another will be born.
This one pits a pair of the league's most talented rookies good friends who have received rave reviews after playing just a few pro games.
And Cleveland's LeBron James and Denver's Carmelo Anthony can't wait for the opening tip.
''I'm looking forward to it,'' said James, the Cavaliers' 18-year-old guard.
''You know there's going to be a lot of hype,'' Anthony said.
More than 20,000 fans, a national TV audience and more media than have ever covered a game in Gund Arena, will witness the Cavaliers' home opener against the Nuggets.
It also will be James' regular-season home debut, and the former Akron high school superstar and No. 1 NBA draft pick wants to put on a good show.
''A lot of people are going to be here,'' said James, who has averaged 18 points, 7.3 rebounds and 7.7 assists in three games. ''I'm just here to show the city of Cleveland that we're a way, way, way better team than we were last year.''
James grew up just 30 miles away, and he's expecting a large contingent of family and friends to be on hand: ''Half of Akron,'' he says.
James and Anthony last faced each other in high school and have been trying to downplay any rivalry old or new.
''A lot of people are going to portray it as a LeBron-Carmelo game, but it's a Nuggets vs. Cavaliers game, and we're trying to go out there and win,'' Anthony said. ''It's going to be on everybody's front page. I know that already. As long as I go in there with the mind-set of just trying to win, nothing can hold me back.''
Nothing has stopped Anthony so far.
A 6-foot-8, 220-pounder with a feathery outside touch, Anthony, the No. 3 overall selection, hasn't gotten half as much hype as James. His stats (13.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists through four games) aren't quite as impressive, either.
However, Anthony led the Nuggets to a 2-1 record after three games, with wins over Western Conference powers San Antonio and Sacramento. Against the Kings, Anthony had 23 points, six rebounds and five assists in his best all-around effort this season.
''Smooth,'' Cavaliers coach Paul Silas said of Anthony. ''He kind of reminds me of (Sixers forward) Glenn Robinson a lot in that he has that nice jumper, but he goes to the hoop. He's going to be a scorer for years to come.''
Anthony had his worst game as a pro Tuesday night, scoring just two points on 1-for-13 shooting in Denver's 71-60 loss at Indiana.
Like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird before them, James and Anthony have entered the league with huge expectations. What sets them apart is that unlike Johnson and Bird, who became good friends later on in their careers, Anthony and James are already tight.
They first bonded at a USA Basketball Festival three years ago in Colorado, where they were clearly the best players. But James says it was their off-court similarities that naturally drew them together.
''He's cool,'' James said. ''He came up the same as me single parent, talk of the town. We just came up playing the game we love. We love the same things.''
James said he speaks with Anthony every other day. They talk about life as soon-to-be NBA All-Stars.
''We're going to push each other because we want to be the best,'' James said.
As for building a heated rivalry with Anthony, James said that's for others to work on. He and his close friend just want to play.
''I'm not going to go up to him and say, 'Let's start a rivalry,''' James said. ''It's already on TV, 'The rivalry between LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.' The media does that, not players.''
The pair haven't played against each other since 2002 when James, a junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary, and Anthony, who played at Oak Hill Academy, went head-to-head during a game in Trenton, N.J., that was attended by dozens of college and pro scouts.
James outscored Anthony 36-34.
''We went one on one the whole game,'' James said. ''I had two more points than him, but he got the win.''
Their only other meeting came a year earlier in Colorado Springs, Colo.
''Lost that one, too,'' James said with a smile. ''I ain't beat him yet.''
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