LeBron James makes Cavaliers hottest ticket in town

By JOE MILICIA, Associated Press Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - Moments after the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA draft lottery, the phones started ringing in the Gund Arena ticket office.
High school basketball star LeBron James has instantly made the Cavaliers -- the team with the worst attendance in the league last year -- the hottest ticket in town. The Cavaliers won the right Thursday to select James in the June 26 draft.
The phones rang until ticket sellers left the office at 1 a.m. Friday and were already ringing when they returned at 6:30 a.m., a team spokesman said.
"I want LeBron tickets," said Rich Winterich of Chagrin Falls, who was among a few fans to go to Gund Arena on Friday to inquire about tickets for next season. "Now we got something. There's hope with him here."
Most people still continued to call.
Cavaliers president Len Komoroski said about 25 people were taking telephone calls in the team's offices Friday morning.
"It's been an unbelievable reaction. The fan response and enthusiasm is just amazing," he said.
Komoroski said he did not yet have specifics about the number of tickets sold.
"I can say our modest (season ticket) base has already been growing substantially as we speak," he said.
Gund Arena will be open Saturday for existing season ticket holders who are looking to buy extra seats and again Thursday so those who put down a deposit can scout seat locations.
Douglas Wynn, 62, of Cleveland, showed up Friday morning at Gund Arena to find out if he could buy tickets to any games. He was hoping to find a package of six to 10 games.
Wynn said he is a longtime Cavaliers fan, and has also followed the high school career of LeBron James.
"This just shows that God is good. Hopefully, it will be a great season," Wynn said.
General manager Jim Paxson said he went to the ticket office Thursday night to thank the sales staff for their hard work through recent losing seasons.
No one could talk to him. All 15 sales agents were on the phone.
"It hasn't even sunk in yet," Paxson said.
Fans pumped fists and cheered from the tops of chairs, bartenders high-fived and others looked at each other in joyful disbelief Thursday night at the Cavaliers' draft party at a Champps restaurant in suburban Valley View.
"I'm at a loss for words. Unbelievable," said Paul Mucci, 25, of Mayfield Heights. "This is outstanding."
One of the team's all-time greats, 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 predicted.
When the No. 2 pick was awarded to Memphis, the decibel level in the restaurant 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."
Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund, who attended the lottery in Secaucus, N.J., was thrilled with the opportunity to draft James, a star for Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.
Fans and the Cavaliers organization hope James is the player who can help 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 close to 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."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)