Party welcomes Shaq to town

CLEVELAND -- Shaq got in one last party before training camp.

Shaquille O'Neal, the big man Cleveland is counting on to deliver this championship-starved city a title, was welcomed to town Sunday with a star-studded party that included sports celebrities and Average Joes looking to rub elbows with them.

Fashionably late, O'Neal arrived in an SUV at 11:15 p.m. as fans, one of them holding a life-size cardboard cutout of O'Neal in an Orlando Magic uniform, cheered on the sidewalks and took pictures of the town's newest superstar, who will be teammates with reigning league MVP LeBron James.

O'Neal has had a good first impression of Cleveland.

"It's a nice town," he said. "The entertainment is already here. Everything is here. The Browns are here, LeBron is here and now I'm here."

The 37-year-old O'Neal was acquired by the Cavaliers in June, shortly after the team was eliminated by Orlando in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Cavs, who open camp Monday, feel he is the missing piece to help James win his first title -- and Cleveland's first in a major sport since 1964.

The Cavs won 66 games in the regular season, 10 in the playoffs and still came up short last season.

With O'Neal, there are no more excuses.

"I'm settling into a damn good team, so the sky is the limit for us," said O'Neal, who has spent the past week out with James and other players at the Cleveland Clinic Courts -- the Cavs' training facility -- in Independence.

Fans lined up more than an hour outside The Barley House in the downtown Warehouse District for a chance to see Cleveland's newest wonder: Shaq.

Before the guest of honor arrived, former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, boxing champion Kelly Pavlik, Cleveland Browns return specialist Joshua Cribbs, several members of the Cleveland Indians, Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu and former Cavs star Austin Carr walked the red carpet.

James was a no-show, but Cavaliers teammates Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao hung out and partied with O'Neal, who hasn't settled on a nickname yet in Cleveland.

"This is going to be fun," Williams said. "We got LeBron. We got Shaq. C'mon, what else you need?"

Kosar joked that the Browns, who dropped to 0-3 on Sunday with a 34-3 loss in Baltimore, could use the 7-foot-1, 325-pound O'Neal.

"I know he'd been great in the scoring zone," Kosar said. "I'd love to lob it up to him."

Along with its fair share of sports heartache in the past few decades, Cleveland has been hard hit by the economy. Kosar said O'Neal's arrival is a boon to basketball and the region.

"The NBA has become the haves and the have-nots," Kosar said. "We've been lucky that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has made Cleveland one of the league's top franchises and Shaq makes us even better."

As they waited on a long line outside to get in, Lenny Kehoe of Cleveland and his friend, Derek Withrow, were excited about the chance to see O'Neal -- and what he can do on the court.

"We wanted to see Shaq," said Kehoe, who is convinced the pairing of O'Neal and James will end Cleveland's title drought. "This is the year. We came so close last year. Shaq is going to put us over the top."