Charlotte 49ers basketball coach Mark Price knows as well as anyone how desperately Cleveland craves its first pro sports championship since 1964.
Price, actually, might have a better grasp on that feeling than most.
A former star with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Price felt the sting of the city’s sports misfortunes on a personal level – and more than a few times. Now, with his former team preparing to face the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, Price is ready with the rest of northeast Ohio for the half-century championship drought to be over.
“For the city of Cleveland, this is something the people have waited for an awful long time,” said Price. “To see it happen would be really special.”
Price spent nine seasons as the Cavs’ point guard, playing in four NBA All-Star games and becoming one of the league’s best-ever 3-point shooters. His 90.4 career free-throw percentage ranks second in NBA history, and he is second on the Cavs’ career assists list behind only LeBron James.
“Deep down in my heart, I’ll always be a Cav,” Price said.
But Price also has ties to the Warriors, most notably with their star player and coach.
In 1987 – Price’s second season in Cleveland – the Cavs obtained a player from the Utah Jazz named Dell Curry. In March 1988, Curry’s wife, Sonya, gave birth to a son, Stephen.
Stephen Curry, of course, has led the Warriors to these Finals against the Cavs.
“I’m sure (Stephen) doesn’t remember anything about that time, but I remember him as a (baby),” said Price, who played with Dell Curry for one season before Curry was taken by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1988 NBA expansion draft.
Price has remained friends with Dell Curry, now a broadcaster, special ambassador and special projects adviser for the Hornets. The two were reunited in 2013 when Price joined the Bobcats/Hornets as an assistant coach, a job he held for most of two seasons before being hired by the 49ers in March.
Another of Price’s former teammates is Steve Kerr, Golden State’s first-yearcoach.
“The Cavs drafted Steve (in 1989) to be my backup,” said Price. “We worked on the court together, every day. I could tell then that he was very intelligent and intuitive about the game. He wanted to learn the nuances, do the things like I did, like shooting the runner, splitting double teams. He picked things up so well. It’s not surprising to me that he’s done such a great job.”
Price had quite an influence on Kerr. That was apparent when Kerr was asked about Stephen Curry’s game in a news conference during the Western Conference finals.
“I think it’s the ball handling that leads to the shot,” said Kerr. “People ask me all the time who I would compare (Curry) with. I played with Mark Price years ago. Mark had a skill set that was really fun to watch – great ball handler, quick, pull-up on a dime.”
Naturally, Price is flattered by the comparison. He also agrees with it.
“Steve meant that I had the ability to shoot the ball at the (point guard) position,” said Price. “I was one of the best shooters at my position in my day, and Stephen is one of the best now. We both have the ability to play point guard and not only shoot, but create off the dribble for yourself and your teammates.
“But Steph got the MVP this year, and to be compared to an MVP says a little bit about how I was as a player. It was a nice comment for Steve to make, and I appreciate it.”
Thanks in large part to Price’s skills, the Cavs were consistent contenders during his time in Cleveland. But they never made it past the Eastern Conference finals and, adding to Cleveland’s sports woes, were eliminated from the playoffs by the Chicago Bulls five times. The Bulls were led by Michael Jordan, who would later become the Hornets’ principal owner and briefly Price’s boss.
“Michael and I stayed away from that conversation, at least I did,” Price said of the Bulls’ mastery of the Cavs. “He’d get his digs in there every once in a while.”
Price’s stature with the Cavs is such that his retired No. 25 jersey is hanging in the rafters of Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs also asked Price to present the team their Eastern Conference championship trophy last week. A previous commitment in Charlotte prevented him from doing so.
His prediction for the Finals?
“I can’t not go with the Cavs,” Price said. “In six games. More than anything, let’s get this big, old huge monkey off the city’s back. It’s been long enough.”
How career numbers for Mark Price and Stephen Curry compare: