Soaring With LeBron, Cavaliers Up for Sale

Thursday, December 9th 2004, 8:13 pm
By: News On 6

CLEVELAND (AP) _ Gordon Gund is about to hit another NBA lottery. The Cleveland Cavaliers' owner is involved in ``serious'' negotiations to sell the franchise that has risen from the league's basement to unprecedented popularity since the arrival of star LeBron James.

Gund, who bought the Cavaliers in 1983 for $20 million, may soon sell them to Michigan businessman Dan Gilbert for a reported $375 million. The Cavaliers' turnaround began on May 22, 2003, when a pingpong ball bounced their way in the league's draft lottery and they won the rights to draft James.

With him, the Cavaliers have been soaring ever since.

On Thursday night, Gund released a statement saying the sale was possible.

``We are engaged in serious negotiations to sell the Cleveland Cavaliers to a new principal owner,'' Gund said. ``A potential buyer is presently verifying information about the Cavaliers. If matters go forward beyond this stage, we will enter into a formal contract subject to NBA approval.''

Team spokesman Tad Carper said the team would have no further comment.

Gund's statement was released as the Cavaliers were having their holiday party at a downtown music club.

Citing unidentified sources, the New York Daily News reported that Gilbert was the potential buyer. Gilbert is chief executive of Livonia, Mich.-based Quicken Loans, the nation's largest online retail mortgage lender. He previously tried to buy the Milwaukee Brewers.

If the Cavaliers are sold, it would be the latest in a series of NBA ownership changes this year.

The Atlanta Hawks ($250 million), New Jersey Nets ($300 million) and Phoenix Suns ($401 million) have all been sold since January.

The Cavaliers were among the worst teams in the league just two years ago. Their attendance dropped to 13,792 per game and there was little local interest as the club went through numerous coaching changes and three straight 50-loss seasons.

Things bottomed out in 2002-03 when the Cavs went 17-65 _ the second worst record in the club's 35-year history.

But the club's fortunes changed when it got James.

In his rookie season, the Cavaliers went 35-47, packed Gund Arena and made more appearances on national TV than they had in the previous decade. With attendance and corporate sponsors signing on and James getting better by the day, the 65-year-old Gund apparently wants to cash in.

``The value of the Cavs has gone up since LeBron came in and Gordon sees this as his best opportunity to sell the team and move on,'' said James' agent, Aaron Goodwin, who was surprised by the announcement. ``Gordon has done a great job of building this team and improving his product.''

Along with his brother, George, Gund bought the Cavaliers in 1983 for $20 million from Ted Stepien. The brothers also owned the NHL's San Jose Sharks before selling that franchise in 2002.

When rumors began to surface a few years ago that he was looking to sell the team, Gund maintained that he would listen to offers but was adamant that he wouldn't move the franchise.

In 1994, the Cavaliers moved from the Richfield Coliseum to a downtown arena bearing Gund's name. The lease on the building runs through 2027, making it highly unlikely that any new owner could move the team.

Last season, Forbes magazine estimated that the value of the Cavaliers surged more than $35 million in less than one year with James on their roster. At the time, the magazine calculated the team's value at $258 million.