By Stephen Wade ,AP
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — They don’t get any bigger than LeBron James — except when you’re in Brazil, where the attention paid to Anderson Varejao shades his NBA superstar teammate.
As they practiced together for Cleveland on Thursday for an NBA preseason game in Rio de Janeiro against the Miami Heat, it was easy to believe the Cavaliers were Varejao’s team.
The hugely popular Varejao has returned to play NBA basketball in the homeland he left at 19.
The Brazilian has a boyish face, stands 2.11 meters (6-11) with a head of wild curly hair, and he nearly blushed when he was told several times he was more popular than King James.
“I don’t really think so,” Varejao said, swarmed over by at least 100 reporters — almost all Brazilians — and tailed after by young Brazilians invited to attend a clinic and watch practice.
“We are talking about LeBron James, one of the greatest,” Varejao countered.
Varejao wasn’t the reason James returned to Cleveland. But it was a bonus. And it didn’t hurt.
“He was a huge part of the success we had in my years before,” James said of Varejao. “I was happy when I made my decision that he was still part of the team.”
Varejao said he was with his parents in July when he heard James was going back to his hometown team.
“I was as happy as a little kid who was waiting for this gift for a long time,” he said. “I was just in shock, and happy.
“Now, when everybody goes to play against Cleveland, they’re going to talk about the Cleveland that has LeBron James. It’s a different animal, a different team when you have a guy like LeBron.”
Varejao’s presence, James’ return to Cleveland, and James’ former team the Heat — winners of two of the last three NBA titles — make for a marquee preseason game to showcase at the HSCB Arena in the Olympic Park.