The Cavaliers landing the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft seemed like a fairytale.
The consensus top choice and one of the most-hyped prospects of all-time was a local kid from nearby Akron, LeBron James.
But this happy accident didn’t come through rainbows and butterflies. To get the top seed in the lottery, Cleveland had to get bad – really bad. The Cavs missed the playoffs five straight years, bottoming out at 17-65 in 2002-03.
When James was a teenager, he started attending games at the arena, and he couldn’t believe how bad the Cavs were, how empty the arena often was, with its bright blue seats seeming like a neon sign of disinterest. During his senior year of high school, he went to several games, was given courtside seats and visited the locker room. His thought was pretty clear after he watched that 17-win team with the lowest attendance in the league: They were awful, and he didn’t want to be a part of it.
Can we be surprised someone who grew up in Akron, Ohio, as a Bulls, Yankees and Cowboys fan didn’t want to join the Cavs? LeBron was a frontrunner.
What he didn’t realize at the time: He’d gain the power to singlehandedly transform a franchise, and he’d develop an emotional attachment to the Cavaliers.
Cleveland wasn’t going to remain unwatchable with him. He turned the Cavs into a credible championship contender. Then, after leaving for the Heat, he returned. He even delivered delivered its long-awaited title last season.
The tears of joy he cried afterward show just how much that area, including its NBA team, means to him.
That he was initially sour on the Cavaliers adds an interesting twist to the story. It doesn’t detract from it.