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The Franchise: LeBron James and the Remaking of the Cleveland Cavaliers

Overview

Two award-winning sports journalists give an in-depth look at how a team and a city were rebuilt around superstar LeBron James.

When the Cleveland Cavaliers drew the top pick in the 2003 NBA draft, an entire city buzzed with excitement. After all, how often does a LeBron James come along? Especially for Cleveland, a midmarket Rust Belt city without a sports championship in forty years. Especially for the Cavaliers, a long-struggling team that ...

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The Franchise: LeBron James and the Remaking of the Cleveland Cavaliers

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Overview

Two award-winning sports journalists give an in-depth look at how a team and a city were rebuilt around superstar LeBron James.

When the Cleveland Cavaliers drew the top pick in the 2003 NBA draft, an entire city buzzed with excitement. After all, how often does a LeBron James come along? Especially for Cleveland, a midmarket Rust Belt city without a sports championship in forty years. Especially for the Cavaliers, a long-struggling team that had never reached the NBA finals.

Soon, everyone had something riding on LeBron—billionaire team owner Dan Gilbert looking for a return on his investment . . . teammates eager for a championship ring . . . the league in need of the next Michael Jordan to promote . . . the shoe company with its multimillion-dollar endorsement deal . . . even popcorn vendors in the stands of Quicken Loans Arena and servers waiting restaurant tables in a downtown that now booms every game night.

Terry Pluto and Brian Windhorst tell the converging stories of a struggling franchise that had to get worse in order to get better and a highly touted teenage phenom, the local kid who became their future.

This book will fascinate any basketball fan who wants the inside story of how LeBron James became the young superstar shouldering the weight of an entire NBA franchise. Chock full of facts and analysis.

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Editorial Reviews

Free Times
Offers about as close to an insider’s perspective of events as possible. Pluto, a sports columnist for the Plain Dealer and the author of more than 20 sports books, brings decades of experience to the project . . . Windhorst has been covering this story since well before Lebron appeared on the national media radar, gaining access, and it shows.
— Alex Rubin
BlackAthlete.net
A fast break the moment that you open the book. Pluto and Windhorst double team James, as only they can and give you accurate, detailed information that only adds to the legacy of the young Superstar. The final chapter of this young man’s career hasn’t been written but the journey up to now has sure been excited and we are all “Witnesses”.
— Wesley Chism
National Public Radio
Anybody with access to the NBA’s highlight reel knows how well James plays. But fans know less about how teams are constructed, dismantled, and reconstructed, and how challenging it must be to build a group comprised of stars, role players, has-beens, deluded rookies, born-agains, and self-absorbed wackos into a team that wins a lot more often than it loses. “The Franchise” gives us a look at that process.
— Bill Littlefield
Cleveland Magazine
Flows quickly and smoothly with facts, analysis and interesting insight into the life of “King James”. It is an intriguing and somewhat nostalgic recap for those who have followed the Cavs loyally. New fans will enjoy this book as a celebration of the life of a super-achieving athlete playing in an underdog city.
Midwest Book Review
Highly recommended to sports fans and analysts who want a wide ranging look at today’s NBA.
BleacherReport.com
Windhorst and Pluto chronicle the life and times of a superstar in the making. They’re particularly insightful in describing the big-money shoe endorsement squabble between Reebok, Nike, and Adidas—summarized neatly in an exchange between Adidas’ Sonny Vaccaro and Nike’s Phil Knight at one of James’ games . . . An informative study of how one individual has changed the marketing landscape for professional athletes—and resurrected a Midwestern city that was dying for a star.
Library Journal

This is not your typical sports biography, focusing on the athlete's public and personal life. In fact, while LeBron James is the axis upon which the book rotates, only the most casual basketball fan will come away with an increased knowledge of him. We know he jumped from high school to the pros; we know he signed a $100-million shoe deal with Nike before playing a single professional game; and we know he led his team to the cusp of a championship last year. Instead, the authors, two northern Ohio sportswriters, take the reader behind the scenes in the Cavaliers' front office, revealing how championship contenders are built (often, as in Cleveland's case, by trading or selling as many players from a mediocre team as possible to save enough money and become bad enough to secure a number-one draft choice to land a player who might become the team's savior). Recommended for public libraries where there will be high regional interest and those with patrons attuned to the business end of sports.
—Jim Burns

Midwest Book Review
Highly recommended to sports fans and analysts who want a wide ranging look at today’s NBA.
Cleveland Magazine
Flows quickly and smoothly with facts, analysis and interesting insight into the life of “King James”. It is an intriguing and somewhat nostalgic recap for those who have followed the Cavs loyally. New fans will enjoy this book as a celebration of the life of a super-achieving athlete playing in an underdog city.
BleacherReport.com
Windhorst and Pluto chronicle the life and times of a superstar in the making. They’re particularly insightful in describing the big-money shoe endorsement squabble between Reebok, Nike, and Adidas—summarized neatly in an exchange between Adidas’ Sonny Vaccaro and Nike’s Phil Knight at one of James’ games . . . An informative study of how one individual has changed the marketing landscape for professional athletes—and resurrected a Midwestern city that was dying for a star.
Free Times - Alex Rubin
Offers about as close to an insider’s perspective of events as possible. Pluto, a sports columnist for the Plain Dealer and the author of more than 20 sports books, brings decades of experience to the project . . . Windhorst has been covering this story since well before Lebron appeared on the national media radar, gaining access, and it shows.
National Public Radio - Bill Littlefield
Anybody with access to the NBA’s highlight reel knows how well James plays. But fans know less about how teams are constructed, dismantled, and reconstructed, and how challenging it must be to build a group comprised of stars, role players, has-beens, deluded rookies, born-agains, and self-absorbed wackos into a team that wins a lot more often than it loses. “The Franchise” gives us a look at that process.
BlackAthlete.net - Wesley Chism
A fast break the moment that you open the book. Pluto and Windhorst double team James, as only they can and give you accurate, detailed information that only adds to the legacy of the young Superstar. The final chapter of this young man’s career hasn’t been written but the journey up to now has sure been excited and we are all “Witnesses”.
NPR's "Only a Game" - Bill Littlefield
Anybody with access to the NBA’s highlight reel knows how well James plays. But fans know less about how teams are constructed, dismantled, and reconstructed, and how challenging it must be to build a group comprised of stars, role players, has-beens, deluded rookies, born-agains, and self-absorbed wackos into a team that wins a lot more often than it loses. “The Franchise” gives us a look at that process.
Library Journal - Jim Burns
Not your typical sports biography . . . Take[s] the reader behind the scenes in the Cavaliers’ front office, revealing how championship contenders are built (often, as in Cleveland’s case, by trading or selling as many players from a mediocre team as possible to save enough money and become bad enough to secure a number-one draft choice to land a player who might become the team’s savior).
BleacherReport.com - Book Reviewer
Windhorst and Pluto chronicle the life and times of a superstar in the making. They’re particularly insightful in describing the big-money shoe endorsement squabble between Reebok, Nike, and Adidas—summarized neatly in an exchange between Adidas’ Sonny Vaccaro and Nike’s Phil Knight at one of James’ games . . . An informative study of how one individual has changed the marketing landscape for professional athletes—and resurrected a Midwestern city that was dying for a star.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781598510287
  • Publisher: Gray & Company, Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/7/2007
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 206
  • Sales rank: 664,661
  • Product dimensions: 5.62 (w) x 8.75 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Terry Pluto is a sports columnist for The Plain Dealer. He has twice been honored by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the nation’s top sports columnist for medium-sized newspapers. He is a nine-time winner of the Ohio Sports Writer of the Year award and has received more than 50 state and local writing awards. In 2005 he was inducted into the Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame. He is the author of 23 books, including The Curse of Rocky Colavito (selected by the New York Times as one of the five notable sports books of 1989), and Loose Balls, which was ranked number 13 on Sports Illustrated’s list of the top 100 sports books of all time. He was called “Perhaps the best American writer of sports books,” by the Chicago Tribune in 1997. He lives in Akron, Ohio.

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Read an Excerpt

“The kind of guy other teams want”

Getting The Guy

A puff of smoke . . .

That’s what you see coming from the hands of LeBron James before every game.

A big, white, fluffy puff of dreamy smoke.

It happens when James walks over to the scorer’s table seconds before the opening jump ball. He pours resin in his hands, quickly rubs them together, then sends his hands to the heavens, pulling them apart wide as the resin heads to the ceiling. It’s the same pregame ritual Michael Jordan performed for years with the Chicago Bulls. Just as Jordan wore No. 23 and had a shoe contract with Nike, so does James. It’s a tribute to the player he most admired while growing up in Akron.

On this night, the puff of smoke went up before Game 6 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. The Cleveland Cavaliers were facing the Detroit Pistons at Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland. Northeast Ohio was in a frenzy, the Cavs one victory away from their first-ever appearance in the NBA Finals. Their first in 37 years. Their first with LeBron James, who was only 22. Their first of many? Some fans dared to dream just that—that this was just the start of something big. Just like the white puff of smoke as James raised his hands and the white power expanded and floated up, up, up and away. Eyes closed, arms fully extended, sound and light and energy pouring over him. It was as if he and the thirsty fans from his hometown were locked in an embrace.

On this night, something magic would happen. This was more than a basketball game, it was a sports romance. Try to think of another franchise being led out of the sports wilderness by a homegrown player. It would be as if Jordan had come from suburban Chicago instead of Wilmington, North Carolina. Or Larry Bird coming from Boston instead of French Lick, Indiana. Or Magic Johnson being a Los Angeles native rather than growing up in Michigan. Or Mickey Mantle in the Bronx, or Tom Brady in New England. It just doesn’t happen, a superstar shouldering the dreams of his hometown as James did that night.

As the smoke rose from James, the fans at mid-court roared. He took it in, maybe not quite believing it all himself. James was born to a teenage single mother and spent much of his youth in the projects and on the streets. He could tell you of guys from his neighborhood who had been shot, guys in jail, guys just lost. He could look under the basket and see his mother, Gloria, in the prime seats, along with his girlfriend Savannah and their young son, LeBron Jr. They are a part of his dream. They’ll never be hungry, never have to worry about a place to live, never wonder if someone will shut off the heat or electricity.

Sitting right behind James at mid-court was Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavaliers. He watches the games from directly behind the press table—not close to the benches but near the public address broadcaster and those in charge of game presentation: the pregame fireworks, video screen, the sound effects. James is part of his dream. A $375 million dream, because that’s what he paid for the franchise in 2005—probably twice what it was worth before James joined the team in 2003.

Gordon Gund was listening to this game, and he’s a part of the dream, too. He can only imagine what James looked like, muscles rippling, anxious sweat steaming off his forehead as he threw that white powder to the sky. Gund is blind. His eyes at the game are the words of Cavaliers radio broadcaster Joe Tait. This was 2007, nearly 24 years since Gund bought the team from Ted Stepien and saved it for Cleveland. He made that $375 million deal with Gilbert for the sale of the team, but kept 15 percent. He longed to be a part of this night, when the Cavs finally had right guy at the right time.

Basketball is really about getting the right guy.

As Cavaliers veteran point guard Eric Snow once said, “You either have The Guy, or you are trying to get The Guy. In LeBron, we have the kind of guy that other teams want to get.”

Getting The Guy . . .

So often, Cleveland fans have seen their guys leave to free agency or trades. Heck, the entire Cleveland Browns team left for three years—when Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore. Or their teams tried to get the guy, but he turned out to be the wrong guy as happened with the Cavs and Shawn Kemp and Danny Ferry.

But now, Ferry was a part of the dream, too.

After a sometimes frustrating playing career with the Cavs, Ferry is the guy hired by Gilbert to make it work for LeBron James. When Ferry left the team in the summer of 2000, he was respected for his work ethic and his relentless determination to transform himself into a viable NBA player, but he still is known by many Cavs fans as the guy who came in the Ron Harper trade, perhaps the worst deal in franchise history. Now, Ferry is the guy making the trades, and fans were glad to have him back.

Getting The Guy . . .

This night was not about dreams going up in a puff of smoke. It wasn’t about a poll in 2006, when ESPN named Cleveland No. 1 in its fan misery index. The fans didn’t lose LeBron, perhaps the greatest athlete ever to be born and raised in the working-class neighborhoods of Northeast Ohio. He had just signed a contract extension in summer of 2006, meaning he is committed to the franchise at least until the summer of 2010. He had defied the odds, by not only staying home to play but by overcoming curses and critics to enliven a dying team and inspire a depressed fan base. Every seat in the arena on the mild June night was filled and he was the reason why. They had been filled all season, the Cavs breaking team records for sellouts and overall attendance. Outside, in a large plaza next to the arena, thousands more squeezed in together to watch the game on giant video screens provided by the team. Just four years earlier, the Cavs had attracted the fewest fans in the NBA. Thousands of them were wearing James’ replica jersey in an array of colors and perhaps hundreds of thousands more were in bars, in their homes, or even on their jobs doing the same.

Getting The Guy . . .

Talk to the people selling hot dogs and T-shirts, those who own the restaurants and nightclubs around the arenas—they all will tell you LeBron has made their life better. Not just because he gives fans reason to cheer, but he makes people happy. The team wins, he scores, fans buy stuff—and the vendors make more money than they did before they had The Guy that forever changed this franchise.

Getting The Guy . . .

Across the court, Marv Albert welcomed a national television audience to the broadcast as James went through his popular pregame maneuver. Before James came, the Cavs hadn’t been on national television in more than three years. In the 2006–07 season, more than 50 games were on national TV. As the fans cheered and the cameras recorded, more than 300 media members settled into position to document the historic night, just four years after two of the three newspapers that followed the Cavs stopped even covering their road games due to lack of interest. The side of a nearby building in downtown was covered in a Nike ad for James, a spectacle that was so well received and photographed that the mayor had declared it public art so it could be protected. Dozens more surrounding buildings were covered with signs and banners cheering on the once forgotten team. In a courtside box, the new billionaire owner who had bought new seats for the fans and a new video board to show James highlights on, took in the scene. All of them and more tied together in a package of success and money by the young man’s talent and the smile and the puffs of magic smoke.

Getting The Guy . . .

This was a great night for Nike, the shoe company that won the biggest corporate battle for any amateur athlete to be its company spokesman. Nike bet more than $100 million that there would be days like this, when an 18-year-old from Akron would become one of the NBA’s elite players, an international celebrity, a savvy salesman for shoes and clothes. They never said it, but they want him to be their next Jordan, and James was coming off a Jordanesque performance in Game 5 of these Eastern Conference Finals with Detroit, scoring 29 of his team’s last 30 points as the Cavaliers prevailed in double-overtime, 109-107. James put 48 points next to his name in the box score that night, and was utterly unstoppable. Jump shots, driving shots, slashing shots and slam dunks. Left hand, right hand—and sometimes, fans swore he did it with no hands. The ball just went from him into the basket. Cavs fans had never seen a performance like this because they never had a player like this. No matter how hard their franchise tried, it was never able to get The Guy.

Then through a white puff of smoke came LeBron James, on to the court, the hearts of fans beating little faster. To Cavs fans, he’s their guy—The Guy. Who’d ever have dared dream it?

[Excerpted from The Franchise, © Terry Pluto and Brian Windhorst. All rights reserved. Gray & Company, Publishers.]

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Table of Contents

1. “The kind of guy other teams want”: Getting The Guy

2. “Why would I want this team?”: LeBron is born . . . and a franchise nearly dies

3. “When you trade for a star, there’s a risk . . .”: Shawn Kemp arrives

4. “He was that good”: LeBron James on the rise

5. “They never would have been able to rebuild”: Shedding Shawn Kemp

6. “None of us should worry about recruiting him”: LeBron makes a splash

7. “The Chosen One”: Courting LeBron

8. “It is going to come down to money”: The $hoe deal

9. “I knew why we were doing it, but I still hated it”: Hitting bottom

10. “That guy should be yours”: The LeBron lottery

11. “He looks like an NBA player right now”: Making the pick

12. “All he ever talked about was wanting to win”: LeBron starts over

13. “You can trust me on that”: A bad deal with Carlos Boozer

14. Bringing it to life: Dan Gilbert buys in

15. “You have to take the roast out of the oven”: Dan Gilbert learns the hard way

16. “A chance to do something special”: Danny Ferry to the rescue

17. “A penny saved is just a penny”: Building around LeBron

18. Reasons to stick around: The clock starts ticking

19. “This is always evolving”: Plowing through the playoffs

20. Getting there: The first trip to the finals

Acknowledgments

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 1, 2009

    This was a gift.

    I bought this book for my 12 year old grandson who is a big fan of basketball, especially the Cavaliers and Lebron James. My grandson enjoyed the book very much!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2008

    The Remaking of the Cavs

    Terry Pluto takes you behind the scene as the team is transformed under Lebron James. Interesting insight into the Shawn Kemop fiasco and the bottoming out period under Jim Paxson's leadership which led the groundwork to the current team era. Pluto also sheds light on the ownership transfer and the Carlos Boozer negotiations. If you are looking for a total Lebron James biography go in another direction because the book focuses on the Cavs franchise. Interesting book that you willl breeze through. A good read for NBA fans.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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