Article via British Basketball League

If you could have picked anywhere in the world since 2000 to grow up and be completely swept up by the hype of hoops, then a stone’s throw away from Cleveland, Ohio, would have been a good spot. Thankfully for Mike Bothwell, he experienced just that.

Born and raised in Willoughby, Ohio, the newest Caledonia Gladiator was just three years old when the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted one of the greatest of all time, LeBron James. The 6’3” guard from Furman University detailed how witnessing ‘King James’ in the NBA had him hooked from day one.

“I was three years old when I started playing, which is also when LeBron James was drafted by the Cavaliers, so it was perfect timing to get a kid into basketball. His coming to Cleveland brought so much excitement to the city and the hype around the game was crazy – I fell in love with the game straight away and have been obsessed ever since.

“Back then it wasn’t as hard to get tickets to NBA games, especially when LeBron first arrived as the Cavs weren’t that good. I’ve been to around 30 games of his as a Cavalier – mostly in the nosebleeds – so to get a chance to see him live at such a young age was an important and influential experience for me.

“He’s definitely my favorite player, but as much as I appreciate the way he plays and his status as a player, my love for him is mostly because of what he’s done for the city and my area growing up. Anyone who follows basketball knows about Cleveland now, and that’s because of him – he changed so many lives through his impact on the city and the game.”

Surreal Summer League in Las Vegas

On his journey to the professional game, as well as starring for Furman over a five-year collegiate career in the NCAA Division One, Bothwell also featured for his idol’s AAU team – the King James Shooting Stars – as a kid, getting custom Nike shoes and attire for the pleasure.

After graduating from college, Bothwell achieved another boyhood dream – following in James’ footsteps in representing the Cleveland Cavaliers at the 2023 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

“Whether you get drafted or not, everybody wants to play in Summer League so you can show NBA teams or teams overseas what you’re capable of, and to do that for Cleveland was an absolute dream come true for me.

“I had so many messages from people back home who were supporting me and happy for me – it was a really incredible moment. I played five games, and it was a super fun time being around the best players, coaches and GMs and having a chance to show what I can do.

“You realise in those moments how many people you’ve shared the journey with as well, including one of my college teammates who got drafted by the Sacramento Kings. It was a very surreal and unforgettable experience.”

Taking a chance on the rookie

Bothwell’s journey to the professional game since graduating earlier this year has been more turbulent than he’d have liked.

Signing his first professional deal in the Israeli Basketball Premier League in August 2023 was a strong endorsement of the guard’s undeniable quality, but unfortunately, his stay in the country was cut short due to the ongoing conflict.

Returning home to the States after leaving Israel, Bothwell has deliberately taken his time to find another opportunity, and outlined why Gareth Murray’s Gladiators presented the best possible opportunity for him.

“Finding the right situation at this stage of the season as a rookie has been so challenging.   Especially because, without having played a pro game yet, whatever team was willing to sign me would be taking a gamble on me. It has been nerve-wracking wondering who was going to be willing to take a chance on me.

“That being said, I have had quite a few offers over the last few months but I’ve turned them all down because they weren’t the right fit for me. I wanted my first step as a pro to be the right one, and Caledonia feels like that for me right now, which is why I signed.

“They were looking for a guard that could penetrate and score the ball, but also get guys shots, get into paint and draw a second defender and make the right play – I feel like I’m pretty good at that. I also love the chemistry the guys seem to have and the direction this team is going in. It’s very exciting for me and I was really happy to sign here.”

Meeting Miryne on the hardwood

For such a worldwide game, the elite level of basketball is a community where everybody knows everybody; meaning Bothwell has already received the lowdown on the British Basketball League from hoopers he knows in the UK game from back home in Ohio.

One of those is Leicester Riders’ Miryne Thomas, who will lace up against Bothwell on Friday night on Sky Sports, as the Gladiators travel to Leicester’s Morningside Arena. In anticipation of the face-off, the Caledonia guard discussed their history:

“We’ve never actually played against each other, but we go back a long way. He was a year above me in high school and I never got the chance to compete against him there, but it’s crazy that now we’re both in our rookie seasons getting to do that here in this country.

“I have a lot of respect for him. I spoke to Miryne before coming here and he said how happy he was for me, what I could expect, and how great the League is. I’m excited to go to battle against him in my first game, for sure.

“As far as my progression this season goes, I’m just going to take it one day at a time and let me surprise myself. That’s how I’ve always been. I work as hard as I can and let the rest take care of itself. When I play free of worry and have fun on the court trying to help the team win, then those wins are what’s important – everything else is a bonus for me.”