BOSTON — A little more than three months after undergoing major brain surgery, Nick Gilbert, the 21-year-old son of Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, will represent the franchise at the NBA draft lottery in Chicago on Tuesday night.
At the same time, some 1,000 miles away at TD Garden, the Cavs will be preparing to play Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics.
“Any time you have a situation where someone’s going through something that’s life-threatening, as that is, and for him to be able to come to some of the home games and be at the lottery tonight representing our franchise, it’s a blessing,” LeBron James said at shootaround Tuesday morning.
Gilbert’s son was born with neurofibromatosis, commonly referred to as NF, a nerve disorder that causes tumors to grow anywhere in the body at any time. One out of 3,000 people on average is born with NF. He underwent laser ablation surgery in February to remove a tumor on his brain stem, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN.
He has attended several games in person during the Cavs’ playoff run both at home and on the road, rooting for his team from a wheelchair.
“It’s really cool. I’m happy for Gillie,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, using a nickname for Gilbert. “He’s brought ’em luck before, getting a No. 1 pick, hopefully he brings us luck again tonight.”
Dan Gilbert tweeted about Nick, noting that this year’s bow tie is made of wood from the 2016 Championship floor.
Well @cavs fans, we have a busy evening ahead.First, the #BowtieisBack. Nick G. will rep us in CHI for tonight’s @NBA lottery on @ESPN at 8pm EDT. Can he defy the odds again? This year’s bow tie is made of wood taken from the 2016 Championship floor. See below.What’s not to like? pic.twitter.com/ZUfimjouIc
— Dan Gilbert (@cavsdan) May 15, 2018
Nick Gilbert became a fixture in the basketball world as a 14-year-old when he served as the Cavs’ representative at the 2011 NBA draft lottery wearing a bow tie and thick, dark-rimmed glasses. He was dubbed the franchise’s good-luck charm when they won the No. 1 pick.
The Nets finished with the eighth-worst record in the league this year, which is the most likely place where the Cavs’ pick will fall. However, by virtue of the lottery, Cleveland has a 2.8 percent chance of having its pick move up to No. 1 and a 9.9 percent chance of it falling in the top three. While the possibility of adding a top prospect has reinvigorated the Cavs’ front office and scouting department this season, both James and Lue were against the Irving trade at the time, sources told ESPN, even if it included an asset like the Nets pick.
And Lue might have inadvertently let it be known just how much he didn’t like the trade when asked about Celtics general manager Danny Ainge at shootaround Tuesday morning.
“He’s great,” Lue said. “You want him on your side because he always gets the best deals. He always makes the right moves. He’s done great in the draft. And when he makes trades, he does a great job of that also. So, he is one of the best we have in his league.”
Ainge, of course, orchestrated the swap for Irving with Cleveland’s rookie general manager Koby Altman, unloading Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, the Nets pick and a future second-round pick in order to get the All-Star point guard.
Both Thomas’ hip and Irving’s knee required season-ending surgeries, and Altman was able to ship Thomas and Crowder out in subsequent deals to build the team on the fly that now has Cleveland four wins from making a fourth straight Finals appearance.
Ainge hired Lue to be on Doc Rivers’ coaching staff in Boston back in 2011, giving him his start on the sidelines. Lue’s coaching career has since led to his leading the Cavs to the first championship in franchise history in 2016 after being promoted from associate head coach to the top guy earlier that season when Cleveland dismissed David Blatt.
“It was great,” Lue said of his two seasons in Boston. “Having a chance to coach with one of the best coaches in our league, Doc Rivers, I learned a lot. And Danny Ainge gave me my first chance to coach. When I didn’t have belief in myself to be a coach, I think Doc said, ‘You know, you’re going to be a great coach someday.’ And I really didn’t believe it because I really didn’t want to coach when I played for Doc. But when I was done playing, I called him up and he had a job for me and gave me my first opportunity, as well as the Celtics. So, it’s a great organization. Everything is first-class. They do things the right way, and it’s a great experience for me.”
With the lottery show airing at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN and tipoff for Game 2 set for just past 8:30 ET, Lue said he and his coaching staff will monitor where the pick lands but still have the Celtics on their minds.
“We’ll still do our same routine,” he said. “We have a lot of downtime, too, starting with 35 [minutes before tipoff] on the clock, do our [film] edit with probably 25 on the clock. We’ll still have time to kind of see what happens.”
In the hours after shootaround and leading up to Tuesday night, Lue made it clear where most of his energy will be focused, however.
“I think about beating Boston tonight,” he said.