In the years following their 1998 first-round playoff loss to the Indiana Pacers, the Cavaliers dropped to the bottom of the league and became a perennial entrant in the annual NBA Draft Lottery. The franchise's freefall bottomed out during the 2002–03 season, as the Cavs fell to a 17-65 record, tied with the Denver Nuggets for the league's worst.
However, the fortunes of the franchise shifted dramatically in May 2003, when the Cavs won the first overall pick in the draft lottery. The Cavaliers selected high school phenomenon LeBron James from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in nearby Akron, providing the team with a centerpiece player around which to build.
The Cavs revised their look for the 2003-04 season, introducing a new logo and a variation on the wine and gold color scheme used by the club during the 1970s. Dark blue was also added as a trim color.
Facing the Sacramento Kings in his first NBA game, LeBron James recorded 25 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals and shooting 60% from the field. After recording a season-high 41 points against the New Jersey Nets, James became the youngest player in league history to score 40 points in a game. He averaged 20.9 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game for the season, and was named Rookie of the Year; becoming the first Cavalier and youngest NBA player to ever receive the award. He joined Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan as the only three players in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game in their rookie season. The Cavaliers improved by 18 wins and concluded the regular season with a 35–47 record, but failed to make the playoffs.