Years before superstar forward LeBron James went on television to announce he was “taking his talents to South Beach,” the Cleveland Cavaliers were laying groundwork that would sustain attendance in case James left.

When he arrived in 2004 as the top draft pick, the Cavs ranked dead last in the NBA in attendance. They won just 17 games in 2003 and hadn’t made it out of the first round of the playoffs since 1993. Fans filled less than 60 percent of then-named Gund Aren...


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