CLEVELAND Everyone wants LeBron James, the projected No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. There's only one team and city that desperately need him.
And that's Cleveland, just a 40-minute drive from his Akron home.
''The last time LeBron was here, we had a 1 1/2-hour waiting list,'' said waitress Cindy Grindstaff, crossing her fingers before carrying away a tray of drinks at a steak house across the street from Gund Arena.
''We need LeBron,'' she said.
This week, almost everyone in Cleveland is saying or thinking the same thing.
On Thursday, the Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets who tied for the league's worst record will have the most chances (225 of 1,000) in the NBA draft lottery, where the top prize this year is the right to draft James, the hyped high school hoops star from nearby Akron.
Any of the 13 teams in this year's lottery would love to have James, the 18-year-old who probably would have been the No. 1 overall pick a year ago, too.
The Cavaliers covet him.
The 6-foot-8 James could immediately help Cleveland, possibly as the point guard they didn't have last season when they went 17-65.
James would help fill the Gund, which drew an average of just 11,497 fans this season the league's lowest figure and a drop of nearly 4,000 per game from last season. The team won't disclose its season ticket base, but it has dropped significantly in recent years.
The hometown kid would bring the franchise some much-needed national attention.
The Cavaliers have not played on network TV in three years, and the exposure, plus having James, could help the club sign free agents who have been turned off by the city's rough winters and the team's rougher records the past few years.
James, who will soon sign a multimillion dollar endorsement deal with Nike, Adidas or Reebok, also could provide a shot in the arm for Cleveland's economy.
David Gilbert, president of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, which works to attract major sports events to the city, said James' influence on the business vitality might be difficult to quantify.
''But it would be safe to say you would have an increase of attendance," he said. ''LeBron himself is already such a media icon, and that in itself has a significant value. Then if he helps the team win, the more people you will have filling Gund Arena and the more people who will be coming downtown and spending.''
Just think of it as an equation: 41 home dates multiplied by 20,000 fans per night equals big bucks.
The Houston Rockets found that out with Chinese center Yao Ming, last year's top pick. The team enjoyed an increase in media coverage and their attendance rose 17 percent thanks to the addition of the 7-5 Yao.
Cavaliers general manager Jim Paxson understands what James could mean to the team lucky enough to get him.
''There's only one player potentially in this draft who, economically, could change things,'' Paxson said. ''I just think in Cleveland, Denver, Toronto, Miami and the L.A. Clippers, those are the bottom five teams in the lottery, there's only one player that can have the most impact all the way around.''
But before Clevelanders start thinking too far ahead, the Cavaliers, who are still looking for a coach, need some luck.
That's something the 33-year-old franchise, and this seemingly cursed sports town, haven't enjoyed in nearly 40 years.
Of the 22 teams that have been in the league since 1976, the Cavaliers, Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers (of course) are the only ones not to make the NBA Finals.
The Cavaliers, who haven't been in the playoffs for five years, have also been undermined by injuries, bad trades and bad karma.
And then, there was Michael Jordan, whose buzzer-beating jumper from the top of the key over Cleveland's Craig Ehlo in 1989 has been immortalized as ''The Shot,'' now alongside ''The Drive'' and ''The Fumble'' as heartbreaking losses in a city devoid of a major sports championship since the Browns in 1964.
The Cavaliers need a break, and for the pingpong balls to bounce their way.
''I've been praying for them,'' said Sister Pauline, one of the nuns from St. Augustine in Richfield, Ohio, who toured Jacobs Field on Tuesday. ''LeBron has got to come.''
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