Crosby's arrival will mirror LeBron's in Cleveland
OTTAWA -- The rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers had one of the worst records and the lowest attendance in the NBA in 2003, the year they won the draft lottery and the chance to select a teenager labeled one of game's next greats.
It was a little more than a week ago that the Penguins' ball was picked first from the bin, giving them the right to draft 17-year-old forward Sidney Crosby, who's been compared to a seemingly growing number of hockey greats. The draft begins at noon today.
A glimpse into his immediate impact on the team was evident in the 24 hours following the lottery announcement, as telephones lit up in the team's ticket office and media from across Crosby's native Canada showed up for a news conference at Mellon Arena.
Cavaliers president and Pittsburgh native Len Komoroski, who used his team's first pick to draft LeBron James in 2003, knows the scenario well.
"When we won the lottery, it was as if we had won a championship in terms of our market," he said. "There was incredible excitement."
James was on the roster that fall, and the Cavaliers saw their average attendance rocket from 11,497 in 2002-03 to 18,288 in 2003-04. Komoroski said it was the largest one-year attendance turnaround in the history of the NBA.
"Even this past season, it went up again to 19,128, so, overall, attendance has continued to grow," Komoroski said.
And that's not all.
Komaroski said that television ratings went up 300 percent in the first year, and the number of Cavaliers games televised nationally went from zero to 16, more than the previous decade combined. Last season, the Cavaliers appeared on national television 31 times.
The Cavaliers were fourth overall in NBA merchandise sales last year, with James' jersey topping sales across the league.
And, in addition to increased local and national media, the Cavaliers had journalists from 22 different countries including Malaysia, Brazil and Germany covering the James story his first year in the league.
"It's given us a chance to re-energize our fan base and breed a whole new generation of Cavalier fans," Komoroski said. "Unfortunately, what the Penguins have that we don't is the type of success they've had in their past. We have yet to be in the NBA Finals, let alone win one, so we look at this as really entering the golden era for the Cavaliers."
Komoroski said there were obvious concerns within the organization about how to promote James without putting too much pressure on one teenager. The media spotlight would be on James in any case, but the marketing staff tried to focus its efforts on James within the context of the team.
"People are excited about LeBron, but at the end of the day, they want to see the team do well and win," Komoroski said. "At the end of the day, there has to be substance there. If we aren't making strides to becoming a championship team, that wouldn't resonate with fans nearly as much."
The same year the Cavaliers drafted James, the Penguins selected first overall after trading up to draft goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. He said the experience was "pretty crazy."
"When you look at it, it was a great time," he said. "It's such a great experience just to be drafted."
Fleury said that although he had recognition at the time, "Sidney has been talked about for so long so he might be a little more busy than I was."
As for advice?
"I don't know. I think maybe not think too much about it," Fleury said. "It's great for that day, but after that you have to move on and go to training camp ready and make the team."