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"Hello, Mr. Gund. How are you?"
The voice appears from nowhere. The collating begins. Where is he today in the darkness? Cleveland. The arena. The Cavaliers' locker room. The voice is coming down toward him. A big man. An accent. The image of the particular character in the real-life novel appears. All in an instant. "Zydrunas," Gund says. "How are you? Getting stronger every day?"
Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Twenty-two years old, from Lithuania. Seven foot three. He was drafted in the first round in 1996 but that September broke his right foot. This was the second break, same foot. He sorely needed more weight for the body slams of the NBA. "I have gone from 237 to 265," Ilgauskas tells Gund. "Here, feel my muscle."
A big hand grabs the owner's hand and pulls it to a flexed biceps. There is one picture in reality: this pale, huge kid with a splash of acne, showing off his muscle. There is another picture in Gund's mind. What is it? How close to reality? "Very impressive," Gund says from his darkness as he squeezes the kid's biceps.
Gund entered professional sports in 1977, almost by accident. His brother, George, had bought 50% of the floundering Cleveland Barons in the NHL. George wanted Gordon to buy a piece. Gordon bought an eighth. Other investors had financial problems. He bought another piece. He owned half the team almost before he knew what was happening. The team stank; and attendance was not great; and...oh, wait a minute, the arena, Richfield Coliseum, suddenly was one of his investments.
The team eventually moved, merging with the Minnesota North Stars in 1978. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers, an immensely troubled franchise, played in the Richfield arena. The NBA inquired if Gordon would take the team for next to nothing from owner Ted Stepien. Certainly not, Gund said. The team was losing millions and had no future because Stepien had traded its top draft choices for years to come. The league gave the Cavs new draft choices. With George as his partner, Gordon now owned a professional basketball team.
"It's just a joy to watch him in action," says NBA commissioner David Stern. "He's the chairman of our board. He comes in and has the best grasp of all the data of anyone in the room. He's the one who pulls out the important fact from page 36 of the report."
The darkness is now inside the brightly lit Gund Arena. The Cavs are playing the Charlotte Hornets. Gund sits in the front row of the owners' box. His suit jacket is off. He has headphones so he can listen to the words of radio broadcaster Joe Tait.
There is no self-pity. There is no spoken regret. There has never been time for that. The bridges that once were burned have been replaced as well as possible. The movement must be forward. That is the only way to go.
From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, January 12, 1998