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Cavaliers win LeBron James sweepstakes

Friday, May 23, 2003

By Tom Canavan, Associated Press Sports Writer

SECAUCUS, New Jersey (AP) - The Cleveland Cavaliers scored perhaps the biggest victory in franchise history Thursday, winning the lottery and the right to select LeBron James, the 18-year-old high school phenom from nearby Akron.

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund, left, and NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik display a Cavaliers jersey with LeBron James' name on it after the Cavaliers won the No.1 draft pick in the NBA draft lottery. (Mike Derer, Associated Press)


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"We don't know who we are going to pick," Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund quipped. He later held up a Cleveland jersey with James' name embroidered on the back and his No. 23.

"I'm very excited for the fans of Cleveland," said Gund, who smiled broadly after NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik announced that the Cavs had won the James sweepstakes. "This is a great day for them and for all of that market, for Akron, for Cleveland, all of northeastern Ohio. I'm tremendously excited about it. It's a big day in Cleveland sports."

The Memphis Grizzlies got the second selection for the June 26 draft, but that pick goes to the Detroit Pistons. Detroit, which posted the best record in the Eastern Conference, had the rights to Memphis' first-round pick because of a trade for Otis Thorpe in 1997.

The Grizzlies would have been allowed to keep the pick if it had been No. 1.

The Denver Nuggets will pick third.

Carmelo Anthony, who led Syracuse University to the national championship this season as a freshman, is projected to be taken after James.

Darko Milicic, a left-handed 2.1-meter (7-foot) player from Serbia and Montenegro, who turns 18 on June 20, is the best of the big men available, and he's expected to be the No. 3 pick.

James is considered by most experts the kind of rare player who can turn around the fortunes of a franchise.

"I'm staying in Cleveland, and I'm real excited," James said at a news conference, wearing a Nike headband and warmup suit and surrounded by his St. Vincent-St. Mary High School teammates.

The 2.03-meter (6-foot-8) swingman, who just signed an endorsement contract with Nike worth more than $90 million and another deal with Upper Deck trading cards for an undisclosed amount of money, averaged 30.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.9 steals as a senior.

James will try to lead the Cavaliers to the playoffs for the first time since 1997-98, and he's bound to be a big box-office attraction for a team that tied Denver for the worst record in the league this past season at 17-65.

LeBron James holds a press conference at an Akron hotel after watching the Cleveland Cavaliers win the NBA draft lottery. James is projected to be the number one pick in the draft. (Ron Schwane, Associated Press)

James didn't want to make any predictions about what he'll be able to do for the Cavs.

"I'm not going to guarantee a championship," James said. "But I will guarantee we'll get better every day. We're going to be a lot better than we were last year."

It was the first time since 1990 that the team with the worst record _ in this case a tie for the worst record _ won the lottery. New Jersey was the last team, selecting Derrick Coleman with the first pick.

Denver, which like Cleveland had 225 chances out of 1,000, slipped to No. 3 in the draft order, despite having the same record as the Cavs.

"Regardless, we're going to get a great player no matter what," Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke said.

Toronto got the fourth pick, and it was followed by Miami, the Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago, Milwaukee, the Knicks, Washington, Golden State, Seattle and Memphis.

Milwaukee, which made the playoffs, got Atlanta's pick at No. 8 because of the trade that sent Glenn Robinson to Atlanta last August. The Hawks would have kept the pick had they received one of the top three. Memphis got the 13th pick as part of a trade that sent Steve Francis to Houston in 1999.

For all the teams that didn't get the top pick, the good news is that this is one deepest drafts in years.

This is the first time the Cleveland has had the first pick in the draft since 1986, when it took North Carolina center Brad Daugherty.

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