CLEVELAND — New Cavaliers center Shaquille O’Neal got the party started Sunday night at the Barley House, where he was welcomed to Cleveland on the eve of the team’s annual Media Day.
Tickets were $15 for general admission and $50 for VIPs, but that didn’t deter about 750 Cleveland pro sports fans, who haven’t had much to cheer about with the Browns and Indians, from turning out.
Several hundred other partygoers took in the scene from establishments on the other side of West 6th Street.
“It’s going to be fun,” said the 37-year-old, who arrived at 11:15 p.m.. “It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be a great team to watch.”
O’Neal is particularly excited about playing with Cavaliers superstar LeBron James, the reigning league MVP.
“The excitement is already here,” O’Neal said. “It’s like having a cable system. You add one more great channel.”
Cavs teammates Anderson Varejao and Mo Williams were in attendance, but James, who was expected to be there, was a no-show.
Indians players Jensen Lewis, Michael Brantley, Joe Smith and David Huff were among those spotted in the crowd, as well as Browns Mike Adams and Josh Cribbs.
The event was scheduled to run until 2:30 a.m. Monday, with many other Cleveland pro athletes expected to attend before the night was over.
Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar was on hand, as were Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Dominique Moceanu, world boxing champion Kelly Pavlik of Youngstown and former Cavaliers greats and current Fox Sports Net announcers Austin Carr and Campy Russell.
“I can’t wait to start calling the games,” Carr said.
Pavlik watched O’Neal take on boxing legend Oscar de La Hoya in his reality show, “Shaq Vs.,” but said he wanted no part of the 7-foot-1, 325-pounder.
“I thought about it,” Pavlik said, “but he’s too big.”
Starved Cleveland pro sports fans, meanwhile, are hoping O’Neal comes up even bigger on the court and leads the Cavaliers to the town’s first major championship since 1964.
“I’ve been watching Shaq for three years,” Medina Township resident Pat Pinkerton said. “I’ve been telling everybody that’s what the Cavs need. It’s the first time we’ve ever had two superstars, not only on the court, but off it.”
Kosar, who was among the first celebrities to show up, loves the Cavaliers’ big addition, but only wishes The Big Aristotle could perform double-duty and play for the Browns.
“I think it’s phenomenal,” he said of the Cavaliers acquiring O’Neal. “Right now, (the Browns) could use him in the scoring zone. I’d love to lob it up to him.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.