Cavaliers fans celebrate lottery victory

By JOE MILICIA, Associated Press Writer
VALLEY VIEW, Ohio (AP) - Cleveland Cavaliers' fans acted like the NBA draft lottery was their biggest win ever. It just may be.
LeBron James is staying home to play in the NBA.
"I'm at a loss for words. Unbelievable," said Paul Mucci, 25, of Mayfield Heights, who attended the team's lottery party at a Champps restaurant in this Cleveland suburb. "This is outstanding."
Fans pumped fists and cheered from the tops of chairs, bartenders high-fived and others just looked at each other in joyful disbelief as the Cavaliers won the draft lottery Thursday night.
A city cursed by sports close calls and heartbreaks finally had something to celebrate. The Cavaliers hit the jackpot -- it's no secret they'll use the first pick in next month's draft on James.
One of the team's greatest players, Austin Carr, held up a wine and gold Cavaliers' No. 23 jersey with "James" on the back.
"This organization was in trouble and LeBron can be the savior," Mucci said.
Brian Gannon, 25, of Rocky River, shouted "It's Christmas in May!" when he saw on television that the Cavaliers had won the NBA's No. 1 draft pick.
"It's really unbelievable. I got goose bumps," he said, showing his friend his arm. "It's a whole new era in this city."
The fans cheered louder as the pick was revealed, drowning out NBA executive Russ Granik, who was announcing the selections.
When the No. 2 pick was awarded to Memphis, the decibel level soared as everyone knew the Cavaliers were the only team left.
Sean Miller, 25, of Youngstown, said James has the potential to be the biggest superstar in Cleveland since Jim Brown.
"Maybe LeBron can do for Cleveland what Tim Couch didn't do for Cleveland," Miller said, referring to the often-criticized Browns quarterback. "I think it's about time we got a cornerstone player."
Champps was covered in the Cavaliers' new wine and gold colors and giant televisions showed highlights of the team's playoff games from years past before the lottery began.
Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund, who attended the lottery in Secaucus, N.J., was thrilled with the chance of drafting James, a star for Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.
Fans and people within the Cavaliers organization see the selection as a chance to turn around a franchise that has suffered four straight 50-loss seasons and hasn't made the playoffs since 1998.
"I'm very happy," Gund said. "I'm very excited for the fans in Cleveland and everyone in northeast Ohio."
James watched the lottery with fans at an Akron hotel. Patrons at the bar erupted with shouts and exchanged hugs and high-fives when they learned James would be playing at home.
James' lawyer, Fred Nance, said the player's family and friends screamed when they realized James would be a Cavalier.
"Cleveland is entitled to a break in pro sports, and we finally got it," Nance said. "We got a great one."
At Jacobs Field, 18,347 fans stood and cheered when the outcome of the lottery was announced on the center field scoreboard in the sixth inning of the Cleveland Indians-Detroit Tigers game.
"Flat-out unbelievable," John Lewis of Lakewood said at the Jake. "He's a Cleveland kid and he's going to be staying here. This is going to change the Cleveland market based on one guy being picked.
"It's about time we had a break go our way. I'm a lot bigger of a basketball fan now than I was a half-hour ago."
Jeff Rogers, who already bought a wine and gold sweat shirt, was impressed by the number of people who came out for the bar party.
He thinks James could immediately improve the Cavaliers.
"They're the youngest team in the league. The young guys have talent," said the 36-year-old Rogers of Old Brooklyn, who attended 20 Cavaliers games last season.
The party also attracted people who have been estranged from the Cavaliers for awhile.
Bill Flynn, 33, of Independence, said the new colors and the excitement of drafting James enticed him to attend the lottery party.
"LeBron James will fill the seats and be great for the economy," Flynn said.
The Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets tied for the worst record in the league at 17-65. Each team had 225 of 1,000 chances, or 22.5 percent, of winning the lottery under the NBA's system of weighting the draw to favor the clubs with the worst records.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)