By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
AKRON, Ohio (AP) - LeBron James could park his Hummer on the front steps of Cleveland's City Hall and not get ticketed. Because, for once, the pingpong balls bounced the city's way.
Cursed by professional sports misery for nearly 40 years, Clevelanders are finally celebrating a big victory: LeBron James is staying close to home.
"I'm a Cavalier," James said. "I'm excited about wearing that wine and gold."
Pinch yourself, Cleveland. It really happened.
The Cavaliers won the NBA draft lottery on Thursday night, giving the perennial league doormat the rights to select the 18-year-old James with the No. 1 overall pick in the June 26 draft.
"Hopefully, the Cavs will take me," James quipped.
There's little doubt about that.
"Thank God we got him," Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund said. "He will make a huge difference to the city and all of northeast Ohio. It's the most exciting thing to ever happen to this franchise."
The Cavaliers, who have never made the NBA finals in their 33-year-history, are coming off a 17-65 season in which they changed coaches and had their best player shoot the ball at his own basket to improve his stats.
The franchise, which had been reduced to a national laughingstock, needed a jolt. The 6-foot-8 James thinks he can provide it some electricity.
"I hope I can put a lot of smiles back on the faces of the people of Cleveland," said James, surrounded by his St. Vincent-St. Mary teammates at a news conference following the lottery.
The hometown kid will not only help the club fill 20,000-seat Gund Arena every night, but he'll put the national spotlight on a town that hasn't had a world championship since the Browns won an NFL title in 1964.
Cleveland has had some close calls. Painful ones. Remember, this is the city where sports fans have adopted names for their catastrophes. Mention "The Drive," "The Fumble" or "The Shot" to a Clevelander and watch what happens.
But in one night, Cleveland got a face lift that may change the city like never before.
"I'm going out and buying season tickets," Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia said after Cleveland's 3-2 loss to Detroit. "I'm excited, really pumped. This is just great for the city. Let's hope a little of that good luck rubs off this way, and all the Cleveland teams start winning.
"Look at Anaheim. The Angels won the World Series and the Mighty Ducks are going for the Stanley Cup. Things work out funny sometimes."
Cleveland's big day was also a huge one for James, who earlier Thursday signed a seven-year, $90 million deal with Nike, picking the shoe giant over rivals Reebok and Adidas.
After learning he would be close to home as a pro, James said he was confident he could help turn around a team that finished 17-65, tied for the league's worst record.
"I'm not going to guarantee a championship," he said. "But we will get better every day; we will be a better team than we were last year."
James' addition to the Cavaliers could also land the team its choice of coaching candidates. The club has interviewed Jeff Van Gundy, Paul Silas and Keith Smart -- its interim coach for 40 games last season -- for its opening.
Asked who he would recommend for the job, James said: "Coach Dru Joyce," his high school coach.
Agent Aaron Goodwin, who negotiated James' deal with Nike, said his client and Cleveland are a perfect fit.
Goodwin also said he had a premonition that James would be a Cavalier when they visited Reebok's headquarters recently. While there, they saw a Cleveland No. 23 jersey.
"I told him, 'You might as well take it home right now,'" Goodwin said. "He's going to have a huge impact. It's an excellent opportunity for him to help resurrect basketball. Kids have been following him in Ohio for years. It's a good story."
As was James' first visit to the Gund as a freshman. He had a seat so high up, he didn't know whom the Cavaliers were playing.
"I couldn't see them," he said. "I didn't know who I was watching."
Those upper deck seats will be filled every night now that James will be there.
After reporters finished asking questions, James concluded with words that would work as the Cavaliers' motto for next season.
"All right, then," he said. "We'll see you at The Gund."