Obama’s Debut, Ten Years After — ‘I’m LeBron, baby!’

Barack Obama, candidate for the United States Senate, Illinois, delivers his keynote speech to the second session of the Democratic National Convention in Boston, on July 27, 2004.

Photograph by Dennis Brack/ Bloomberg

Barack Obama, candidate for the United States Senate, Illinois, delivers his keynote speech to the second session of the Democratic National Convention in Boston, on July 27, 2004.

Even for Barack Obama, July 27, 2004, was a remarkable day.

Ten years ago this Sunday, that’s when Obama moved from being an obscure Illinois state senator to a rising Democratic star who would win the presidency just four years later.

Then a rookie on the national stage, Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston where then-U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts would be formally selected as the party’s 2004 nominee.

In the hours before the speech, Obama was one of the convention’s hottest attractions, with reporters, photographers and fans chasing him around Boston’s FleetCenter.

To stay on schedule for back-to-back media interviews, Obama had to run at times, hurdling fences and television staging areas. Foreshadowing the media frenzy that would envelope him in 2007 and 2008, he had to at one point ask reporters for some space as he used a portable toilet.

Even as just a state senator running for U.S. Senate, Obama was filled with confidence, predicting he’d be a hit.

“I’m LeBron, baby,” he told former Chicago Tribune reporter David Mendell, referring to basketball star LeBron James. “I can play on this level. I got some game.”

Obama, whose campaign staff had lobbied hard for the speaking slot, hadn’t before used aTelePrompTer, so he carried a written copy of the speech with him in case of snafus.

As stage time arrived, a last-minute decision was made that Obama’s tie was not quite right for television (he wasn’t nearly as well-dressed back in those days as he is with a White House wardrobe). A light blue tie belonging to Robert Gibbs, then his top media aide, was used as a replacement.

The speech was heavy on Obama’s own complex biography: Kenya, Kansas, Hawaii and growing up as a “skinny kid with a funny name.” It was almost halfway through the 17-minute address before he mentioned Kerry, now his secretary of state.

Also in the hall that night was Hillary Clinton, who can be seen in several of the cutaway TV shots standing and applauding the man who would block her own path to the presidency — but whom she, too, would serve as secretary of state.

Most of Obama’s most memorable lines came during the final five minutes of the speech.

“There is not a liberal America and a conservative America,” he said. “There is the United States of America.”

As he tried to downplay the nation’s political divisions, he noted that “we worship an awesome God in the blue states and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states.”

Many outside the arena couldn’t even see the speech live. In an era when web streaming wasn’t routine, the broadcast networks didn’t carry that segment of the convention and it could only be viewed on cable TV and on some stations in Illinois.

Inside the hall, it was another story. The speech electrified the convention, moving some to tears. In the seating area for the Illinois delegation, along one side of the arena’s sides, applause and foot-stomping was thunderous.

After the speech, Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley was asked for his reaction by reporters. He politely praised Obama, but also seemed to be starting to realize that there might be an Illinois political figure even bigger than him.

Later that night, Obama stopped briefly at a Boston nightclub to thank and greet Illinois supporters and others who would party well into the early morning hours the next day.

In the 10 years since that speech, Obama was elected and reelected president of the United States.

LeBron James left Cleveland, and has re-signed with the Cavaliers.

And the president has returned to Earth: Peaking at 68 percent job approval early in his first term, he stood at 42 percent in the latest Gallup Poll.

What do you think about this article? Comment below!