What the Cleveland Cavaliers have been able to do so far through the first three games of the NBA Finals against Golden State (outside of cause major elation and anxiety in the matter of minutes among Cavaliers fans) has been legendary.
And all the while, one legend is proving his title and adding to his prodigious NBA career (LeBron James) while another (Matthew Dellavedova) is establishing his legacy of taking advantage of a great opportunity. Dellavedova is giving it all for his teammates and Cavaliers fans, every second he’s on the court, because that’s how you’re supposed to play the game.
“Delly,” the 24-year-old Austrailian guard, who looks like the last guy you would chose in a pick-up game on the playground, has emerged as the quintessential blue-collar Cleveland professional sports athlete who resonates with all of us. I love him. As Cavaliers fans, we all love what he stands for and we love and respect how he plays the game.
Is he THAT good?
He’s a marginal NBA player — on paper. But guess who also loves Delly? LeBron.
LeBron knows what Dellavedova means to the team.
LeBron knows that to win a championship, you need a Dellavedova and Dellavedova sure as heck needs LeBron.
That propensity to make others better is something LeBron always had and I “witnessed” it for the 15 years I worked as a sportswriter at the Akron Beacon Journal covering LeBron as a youth and into his high school years.
Keith Dambrot has been the University of Akron men’s basketball coach since 2004, with an overall record of 252-121, including three trips to the NCAA Tournament. He met LeBron when James and his close friends (Dru Joyce III, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee and Romeo Travis) were in middle school.
Dambrot had head coaching stints at Tiffin University, Ashland University and later Central Michigan, in the Mid-American Conference, but at the time he met LeBron and the rest of the ``Fab Five,’’ he was out of a coaching job and looking to get one.
“Everyone thinks that LeBron is a superior physical talent, which he is, but he is really a basketball genius,” Dambrot told me Wednesday evening. “LeBron is one of the few players in the world that makes everyone and everything around him better, this includes schools administrators, coaches, players and managers.
“He has the Midas touch, everything he touches turns to gold,’’ Dambrot said. “He has resurrected careers like mine, he has resurrected schools like St. Vincent-St. Mary and certainly the Cavaliers.”
So to watch LeBron resurrect a team and a city and a region like he has since his return to Cleveland is no surprise to many of us.
“LeBron has always been a team guy, going back to (recreation) ball,” said McGee, who was recently named the new athletic director at St. Vincent-St. Mary. “Coach Dambrot always said when your best player is your hardest worker, the rest of the team will follow. And LeBron loves to pass so when your best player gets other players touches and keep them involved, they will always play hard. It’s almost like you don’t want to let him down because he trusts you so much.”
Having known James and his family since LeBron was in sixth grade, I know that trust is something he doesn’t take lightly, and he never has, in his professional or personal careers.
On the court, LeBron is all about trust. I know fans scream at the television as they watch him pass up a shot (many times a difficult shot) so that a teammate can get a better shot. But that’s how he has always played the game — unselfishly.
So at every stage of his life, LeBron has played with a Dellavedova.
The first player that comes to mind is Chad Mraz. He was a shooting guard, maybe 5-foot-9, solid outside shooter, not the fastest player on the court. Mraz wasn’t strong, couldn’t create a lot of his shots (like Dellavedova), but Mraz did so many of the intangibles (like Dellavedova).
Mraz would burn the skin off his knees diving for loose balls. He would take shots to the abdomen and hit the floor all in the name of taking a charge. He would fly into the stands for a loose ball because that’s what you were supposed to do.
A perfect example of what McGee was referring to when it came to trust happened during their junior year in the state championship game against Cincinnati Roger Bacon. The Irish were facing a team they defeated handily earlier in the year.
This time around at Ohio State’s Value City Arena, Roger Bacon stood toe-to-toe with LeBron and the Irish. In fact, St. Vincent-St. Mary trailed 66-63 with 30 seconds left and the Irish with the ball.
Everyone in the arena (all 18,375 of them, including myself) watched LeBron slowly bring the ball up the court and expected that he would take the last shot to tie the game.
But once James crossed halfcourt and dribbled to the top of the key, he fired the ball to Mraz on the left side of the court. Mraz put up a shot that was off the mark. Roger Bacon rebounded the ball and put the game way at the free-throw line.
After the game, James was asked why he didn’t take the last shot, and at that moment, I knew exactly what his response was going to be, and I was right.
“I just didn’t want to force anything,” James said, calm and cool while several of his teammates sat at the press table still crying, with Gatorade towels over their heads. “Chad was open and I got him the ball.”
James trusted Mraz to the end, like he has at every stage of his career.
We love underdogs in northeastern Ohio — boy, do we love underdogs. That’s who we are as sports fans.
You can even look back to the 2007 Cavaliers team, which reached the NBA Finals against a veteran San Antonio team. Before the series even started, the Cavaliers were given no chance in that series.
And look at the Cavaliers’ roster, players like Sasha Pavlovic (whom LeBron loved), Eric Snow, Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden, to name a few. On paper, they didn’t even belong on the same floor as the Spurs.
Yet, James willed his rag-tag team into the Finals.
It’s something he has done since he and his Fab Five crew were playing AAU basketball in sixth grade.
LeBron always had that winning mentality.
To know James, you have to understand the mindset of a guy who has overcome seemingly insurmountable odds — on and off the court — his entire life.
Growing up in the projects of Akron, growing up with a single mom who had him when she was 16, growing up in northeastern Ohio, where the national media never gives us a chance, James knows what’s at stake.
And win or lose this series, LeBron James will leave everything out on the court for northeastern Ohio, just like his teammate Dellavedova will.
David Lee Morgan Jr. was a sportswriter for the Akron Beacon Journal for 15 years and the author of several books including “LeBron James: The Rise of a Star” and “More Than a Coach: What it Means to Play for Coach, Mentor and Friend Jim Tressel.” He currently works for the Youngstown State University Foundation.