FAIRLAWN, Ohio – It’s been official for a week, but maybe the strongest sign the Cleveland Cavaliers are back in the NBA Finals hasn’t come from round-the-clock radio, TV commercials or plain old discussion in offices, bars and wherever else people in Northeast Ohio gather.
It’s what I saw Monday night.
Hundreds of people — maybe even 1,000 — came to Summit Mall in suburban Akron to get a glimpse of Cavs guard Matthew Dellavedova. More specifically, to pay $25 to say hello and get Dellavedova’s autograph.
Just a kid from Australia, tucked in the corner of a memorabilia store not far from where the NBA’s most famous kid from Akron lives, living the American dream.
Northeast Ohio seems ready for Thursday and for whatever else the Cavs-Golden State Warriors NBA Finals will bring.
Eighteen months ago, Dellavedova was an undrafted rookie from a far-away college (Saint Mary’s) and a far-away land getting backup point guard minutes on a really bad team. The non-LeBron James years were difficult. Lots of guys came and went, quietly, before James came back last summer, the Cavs were rebuilt then reshaped again on the fly in January, and lately just about everything has worked and clicked and almost everyone who’s suited up during a 12-2 playoff run has played a role.
Twice, Dellavedova has been chosen to sit on the podium for playoff postgame press conferences. "The Podium Game," as its known, is quite an honor for a non-superstar.
Maybe he’ll never be a star. Maybe Dellavedova will never have a run like this again on basketball’s biggest stage.
I pulled up knowing a two-hour autograph session had been planned at All-Star Sports. I was not familiar with All-Star Sports, though, including where it was located in the mall or even how many people would show up and pony up on a Monday evening.
The line was out the door. Really. I chose another entrance because at least a dozen fans and a security guard were outside.
Summit Mall is in the heart of Cavs country. James lives just a few miles away, and Cleveland is 30 or so miles north. So, this wasn’t totally surprising. Cleveland loves its teams and its athletes. The 51-year championship drought is a topic of conversation even when a chance to break it isn’t imminent. Still, this was quite a sight.
I encountered Alex Moneypenny, a recent Ohio University graduate who’d come from North Canton with his sister and a friend. They’d paid for their autograph and received a ‘No. 170’ stamp on the receipt, indicating their spot in line. We discussed this at about 7:15 p.m..
Thanks to everyone who came out to say hello in Akron! Was nice to meet you guys 👍
"We got here at 6 o’clock," Moneypenny said. "And we haven’t really moved at all."
About two hours and $35 later — an 8 x 10 to get signed cost $10 — Moneypenny had his autograph. The line, he said, "was still pretty deep" as he left. Business was good.
I asked around. Most guessed that 700-800 fans had showed up. A couple guessed more. I wasn’t the only gawker. I counted at least four security guards, too, and lots of fans who seemed impatient.
But most of them smiled.
Outside, two teenage fans had given up on the wait. One wore a Cavs hat, and the other sported floppy hair and a Dellavedova No. 8 T-shirt. He was shy. He told me his name was Joe, and I got the hint that he was lying.
That was OK. We talked basketball, and the crowd, and my surprise that the turnout had been so great. ‘Joe’ wasn’t hopping back in line, but eventually he opened up.
"LeBron is the reason for all this," Joe said. "But Delly, he’s just the man. People love him."
For Cleveland — and Akron, and LeBron, and Delly and Joe — the wait is almost over.
@H_Grove@AkronJackson I'm up here just to check it out. Before tonight, I didn't think many Delly jerseys existed…I was obviously wrong