CLEVELAND — The entire course of Cavaliers history was altered by the 2003 lottery when they won LeBron James in a game of chance.
Had Detroit, Memphis or Denver (same odds as Cleveland; 22.5 percent) lucked into the first pick, Carmelo Anthony, or Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh would have wound up wearing maroon and gold . . . then what?
Does Dan Gilbert buy the team for more than $300 million . . . and then invest millions more into refurbishing the arena and building a $25 million state of the art practice facility.
Would his Cavs currently be $21 million over the luxury tax?
Winning the lottery was a shock to the system of Cleveland’s sports fans. The city is infamous for something always going wrong with its teams.
The Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948. The last Browns title was 1964, pre-Super Bowl.
Art Modell moves the Browns and then wins a Super Bowl in Baltimore.
The Indians’ Jose Mesa can’t get the Marlins out in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the 1997 Series . . . and they lose in 11 innings.
The 1975-76 Cavs beat Washington in the semis and just before the conference finals vs. Boston, Jim Chones breaks his foot in practice.
And then there’s the curse of Rocky Colavito.
Cleveland never seems to have the best player in any sport. Well, almost never; the one and only time it happened was when the Browns flaunted Jim Brown.
So now, not only do the Cavs have the best player . . . he’s from Akron! He’s local!
In modern times, even going back nearly 45 years, it’s unprecedented that an NBA team’s luminary grew up in the vicinity.
Previous to 1966, that was a common occurrence. A territorial draft gave the league’s nine teams an option to forfeit their first-round pick, and instead choose a player from the franchise’s immediate geographical (born or played college ball) area. The 1966 draft was the first that used an inverse order selection process.
League history boasts a profusion of pre-eminent players, but not who won a championship for their hometown franchise. No, not Russell, Jordan, Mikan, Kareem, Duncan, Magic, Bird, Shaq, Kobe, Pettit, Walton, West, Willis, Frazier or anyone else that comes to mind.
The lone executor was Wilt Chamberlain, in 1967.
LeBron is on target to become the second.
Six years ago, before LeBron joined the Cavs, people wouldn’t cross the street to see them play. Now, 20,562 regularly sell out Quicken Loans Arena. The fretting over LeBron leaving or staying when his contract expires after next season has as much to do with the history of the city’s sports, where a black cloud engulfs every silver lining.
LeBron sits in front of his dressing stall a half-hour or so after games and bestows quotable opinions and observations for about 10 minutes. Once on-deadline reporters disperse the rap music is turned up, but the volume was respectfully lowered each time I requested some extra time.
Then I got greedy and gently pushed for a private meeting. We met before last Friday’s noon practice; he showed up an hour early the morning after a Cavaliers’ OT win over the Blazers.
Surprised to learn there had been a territorial draft, LeBron got excited at the prospects of him linking up in NBA history with Wilt.
By no means, was that the first subject broached, but that’s what happens when the subsequent question elicits an apparently revealing reply: Would a crown keep King James on the Cavs throne?
“I don’t know if it will keep me to stay or help me to leave,” he stated. He then softened that a bit by adding he’s never looked at his free agent situation that way.
“I won’t know that until hopefully we win a ring.”
What is LeBron’s view?
“I look at it as me being the face of this franchise, and we continue to get better over the year and our franchise continues to get better,” he said. “I have never had any thoughts of playing anywhere else or imagining playing anywhere else.”
Visions of teaming up with sugar plums, Dwight Howard or Dwyane Wade, dance in LeBron’s head.
“But that doesn’t mean playing somewhere else,” James said. “I got that opportunity with the USA team and it was great. But I’ve never expressed a desire to play with another franchise.
“I really appreciate what this franchise has done for me and what it wants to continue to do for me, and I’m going to try to do what I do . . . and let opponents do what they can about it.”
Peter Vecsey covers the NBAfor the New York Post.
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