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SECAUCUS, N.J. (AP) — LeBron James won't have to go far to play in the NBA.

The Cleveland Cavaliers scored perhaps the biggest victory in franchise history Thursday night, winning the NBA draft lottery and the right to select James, the 18-year-old high school phenom from nearby Akron.

"We don't know who we are going to pick," Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund quipped. He later held up a Cleveland jersey with James' name embroidered on the back and his No. 23.

"I'm very excited for the fans of Cleveland," said Gund, who smiled broadly after NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik announced that the Cavs had won the James sweepstakes. "This is a great day for them and for all of that market, for Akron, for Cleveland, all of northeastern Ohio. I'm tremendously excited about it. It's a big day in Cleveland sports."

The Memphis Grizzlies got the second selection for the June 26 draft, but that pick goes to the Detroit Pistons. The Denver Nuggets will pick third.

James is considered by most experts the kind of rare player who can turn around the fortunes of a franchise.

"I'm staying in Cleveland, and I'm real excited," James said at a news conference, wearing a Nike headband and warmup suit and surrounded by his St. Vincent-St. Mary High School teammates.

The 6-foot-8 swingman, who just signed lucrative multiyear endorsement deals with Nike and Upper Deck trading cards, averaged 30.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.9 steals as a senior.

James will try to lead the Cavaliers back to the playoffs for the first time since 1997-98, and he's bound to be a big box-office attraction for a team that tied Denver for the worst record in the league this past season at 17-65.

James didn't want to make any predictions about what he'll be able to do for the Cavs.

"I'm not going to guarantee a championship," James said. "But I will guarantee we'll get better every day. We're going to be a lot better than we were last year."

It was the first time since 1990 that the team with the worst record — in this case a tie for the worst record — won the lottery. New Jersey was the last team, selecting Derrick Coleman with the first pick.

Toronto got the fourth pick, and it was followed by Miami, the Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago, Milwaukee, the Knicks, Washington, Golden State, Seattle and Memphis.

Milwaukee, which made the playoffs, got Atlanta's pick at No. 8 because of the trade that sent Glenn Robinson to Atlanta last August. The Hawks would have kept the pick had they received one of the top three. Memphis got the 13th pick as part of a trade that sent Steve Francis to Houston in 1999.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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