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CLEVELAND, June 12 -- In attendance at Game 3 of the NBA Finals was Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts quarterback, fresh off a winning Super Bowl XLI. Well, not fresh off, it's been over four months. Then again, it's been XLIII years (43 years) since the city of Cleveland celebrated a title. So, it's all relative.
Was the leader of the horseshoe gang and Super Bowl MVP there for good luck?
"We were playing golf last week, me and Jeff Saturday, Tarik Glenn and Dallas Clark, three of my teammates, and they said get us some tickets to the game,'" said Manning. "We're all big basketball fans. Look, Tarik is wearing a LeBron jersey.
"So we had practice today and flew in after that and we'll fly back tonight for tomorrow's practice."
Manning had never been to a Super Bowl prior to winning this past February, but this is his third time being at a NBA Finals game.
"As a player, I have not been to watch it," said Manning. "It's too hard to go. It's easier to be here and watch. But I've been to the Finals in 2000 when the Pacers were there. And when the Lakers and Sixers played in Philadelphia, Marvin Harrison (native Philadelphian) took me."
Speaking of Mr. Harrison, Manning was genuinely excited about the prospects of some the players on the floor tonight lining up on the gridiron along his favorite receiver.
"Man, it would be great to have LeBron as a receiver," said Manning. "I'd take Tim Duncan out there in the slot. No question, those guys could play."
Manning knows talent when he sees it. He sees it everyday in the mirror.
Surely you remember this line: "That guy's pretty good if you like 6-5, 230 lb quarterbacks with a laser rocket arm."
If you need help, it's one of his lines referring to himself in one of his many commercials.
He says he does not have a favorite commercial though. However, as a kid growing up in New Orleans, his favorite basketball player was Magic Johnson.
He probably doesn't know this, and I did not have the heart to tell him, but Magic could have been a member of the New Orleans Jazz. The Los Angeles Lakers, in a complicated and controversial deal with the Jazz, allowed Gail Goodrich to sign as a free agent with the Jazz in exchange for future first round draft picks, which a few years later turned into Magic.
That deal didn't turn out so well for Manning's hometown team, nor did The Sopranos according to many, including Manning.
"I'm a big fan and I watched the finale but I didn't like it," he said.
In San Antonio, there was an array of a spectacular wing players. Tonight was the return of the pivot.
The most appreciative of such a line-up was perhaps the next to join. Greg Oden, the presumptive number one draft pick in the upcoming NBA 2007 Draft, received a crash course from some of the most tenured of basketball big men professors.
"I just met Bill Russell for the first time," said Oden. "It was a great experience for me. I learned a lot just sitting there talking to them. They told me a lot of things, but the most important may have been that they told me people are going to test me next season."
"They said, 'When they figure out that they can't play you, they're going to test you.'"
"They also said, 'You got to be ready. Play your game. Don't change for anybody else.'"
Although Oden recalled that he did not model his game after any one while growing up, there was one man in attendance whose career he admired.
"A game that I would love to have is David Robinson's," said Oden.
Oden, being a native of Indianapolis, connects himself to Manning, but Oden has a lot of buckeye in him now.
"I went to Ohio State, so I am always going to be connected to Ohio," he said. "The Cavs being in the Finals is doing a lot for basketball in Ohio. All I hear about is the Cavs now."
With summer looming, thoughts about his participation with the USA Basketball Men’s Senior National Team were in the air.
"I'm working out for the draft, but I'm ready and anxious to go out there for mini-camp," Oden said. "Hopefully, it turns out good. I'm going to work hard and all I can ask for is to do my best."
When asked if he had starting house hunting in Portland, with the Blazers holding the number one selection in this year's draft, he smiled and said, "Not yet."