- Marc Stein, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
CLEVELAND -- The first No. 1 overall pick in franchise history stamped a temporary Cavaliers tattoo on his forehead, swept up in the hoopla like everyone else.
Fans lined up outside some three hours before the draft and proudly toted signs into Gund Arena, some of them standing out like Austin Carr's tattoo. Read one: "If You Lose It, LeBron Will Come."
The long-suffering locals painted their faces in wine and gold and bought JAMES 23 jerseys faster than the sellers could empty the boxes. Actual humans, for once, outnumbered those notoriously empty blue seats, as folks waited for the balloons and confetti to rain down from the roof when the hometown hero's name was called.
"This is a football town," Carr said, "but now we're going to give the Browns a run for their money."
Cleveland wasn't exactly "lit up like Vegas" on Thursday evening, as LeBron James claims it will be next season, but the energy generated by the mere formality of James' selection suggests it's an NBA ghost town no longer.
Call it Jamestown, if anything, where the only calm on draft night could be found in the conference room where the Cavs' decision makers pretended to deliberate about who they were going to take. They apparently got so calm in the war room, Cavs officials had forward Darius Miles openly wondering "what took them so long to pick."
"It was pretty loose in there," Cavaliers general manager Jim Paxson quipped.
Of course, calling in the LeBron choice was maybe the last moment of calm for Paxson and his organization. James returns from New York on Friday, to take his frenzied life to a new adult level, as the supposed savior for a downtrodden club that regards the playoff heartbreak inflicted by Michael Jordan as its glory days.
James? All they're expecting out here is a cross between Jordan and Magic Johnson ... and free tickets for all his friends at home in nearby Akron.
"He's one in a million," Miles said of his new teammate. "He's one in a billion."
"He is a man," said new coach Paul Silas, referring to James' NBA-ready physique. "He's 6-8 and 245 pounds. He is a man-child."
"After all the bad things that have happened," added Cavaliers alumnus Larry Nance, "I think Mr. Gund and this franchise deserve to have him. It's time to forget about the past."
There's no time for it. After a turmoil-filled season, and with a roster already teeming with hard-to-harness talent -- Miles, Dajuan Wagner and, most of all, Ricky Davis -- Gordon Gund's Cavaliers have a long checklist to establish the sort of infrastructure that can handle Hurricane LBJ.
They will be hiring a full-time security director to help protect James from the masses. They are bringing Miles and Wagner to summer league to start playing with James and learning from new coach Paul Silas. In spite of the good crowd Thursday, which filled up half the building, there are still plenty of blue seats that need to be sold. That's evident when you speak to Gund, who has memorized the phone number to call for season tickets.
"We are available at that number," Gund informed his media audience. "Two-one-six, four-two-zero, two-two-eight-seven."
They want to sell tickets now, when the buzz is scorching and long before the reality of James' preps-to-pros leap takes hold. It always takes teen-agers two or three seasons to adapt to the NBA, no matter how wondrously gifted they are. In this case, expectations are so high that James might never meet them, and a rough rookie indoctrination -- "I know I'm a marked man," James concedes -- is almost guaranteed.
Paxson, meanwhile, insists that the Cavaliers' incumbent kiddies aren't available yet. He wants to give Silas the chance to work with all of them, most of all the moody Davis, before deciding who doesn't fit.
They want to find out if James can really play point guard in the NBA. Even if he can, they want to find out if Wagner, Davis and Miles can legitimately share minutes with James in a lineup that also has to make room for an All-Star center (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) and a young power forward (Carlos Boozer). And much as they want to see what they have, Gund's Cavs also know they need to add some veteran leadership immediately.
Silas is partial to Hornets free-agent forward P.J. Brown, and Brown is said to be intrigued by the challenge, even with several contending teams lined up to chase him starting July 1. Brown must see that the Cavs do have something rather special, even if they can't be exactly sure just how crazy LeBron Mania is going to get or how the pieces all fit.
"At some point, to address some other needs, will we make some moves?" Paxson said. "Sure. But I can't tell you that today and Paul definitely can't tell you that today. I thought we had better talent than our (17-65) record, but we weren't a team. We have to build a team out of this group."
As for LeBron, and the chaos that surely awaits in his home state in what will be the most scrutinized rookie season of all-time, Paxson said: "He has everything you would look for in a young player. I think he has the charisma and the ability to pull it off."
Said Silas: "I go into this with an open mind. If he wants to be a star right away, it's going to fall on my shoulders. People are going to say, 'You're not playing him enough, you're not playing him in the right position.' But I like his demeanor. I like what he's saying. This kid has stardom written all over him, but he only talks about the team and 'we.' The other day, when he introduced himself to Carlos, he said, 'Mr. Boozer, I'm LeBron James.' That's special."
See? On draft night in Cleveland, pretty much all the scenes and stories were anything but typical. "We've outdone ourselves," Gund said, and Carr concurred.
None of Thursday's hoopla was recognizable to 1971's No. 1 pick.
"I had fanfare," Carr said. "But nothing like this, where they call you King James and everything else."
Just call it Jamestown: The city of Cleveland is already in a frenzy over its hometown hero LeBron James.