Neil Fortier had just sat down for lunch with some colleagues at a Mexican restaurant in downtown Cleveland around noon Friday when Lebron James took over the sports world.
"I was sitting with two co-workers," said Fortier, the Cleveland Cavaliers' director of corporate partnership development. "We got our chips and salsa and it broke at 12:13 p.m."
James revealed on Sports Illustrated's website he was coming back home to Cleveland.
"At that point if you looked out, you saw a large numbers of Cavs employees were running back to the office," Fortier said.
What does this have to do with York?
Well, Fortier was the vice president of the York Revolution up until he left the club around this time last year to work for Cleveland, where he joined former Revs' general manager Matt O'Brien. The pair were instrumental in laying the groundwork for the York franchise from its very inception. Their first headquarters in York was a small office along Roosevelt Avenue while Santander Stadium was being built.
"That would've been September of 2006. It was literally me, Matt and a fax machine," Fortier said.
O'Brien departed from York when Opening Day Partners — owner of the Revs, Lancaster Barnstormers, Southern Maryland Blue Crabs and Sugar Land (Texas) Skeeters — moved him out west to be the general manager and president of Sugar Land for the club's inaugural season in 2012. The Skeeters went on to set new league records in attendance in 2012. O'Brien left Sugar Land in March 2013 when the Cavaliers hired him to be the organization's senior director of corporate partnerships. Four months later, the Cavs hired Fortier, a New York native and St. John Fisher (N.Y.) College grad.
When the best basketball player in the world revealed Friday he was returning to Cleveland, it took only a few hours for the roughly 12,000 Cavaliers' season tickets to sell out at the 20,562-seat Quicken Loans Arena. And suddenly it has felt to Fortier, who handles the advertising side of things, like everyone wants to be involved with the Cavs.
"Obviously it hit Friday in the afternoon. I was there at the office pretty late into the night. I sat on my couch a little bit this weekend but spent some time back there (at the office) this weekend as well. But I have not escaped my phone or computer," Fortier said. "It's a result of all those conversations I've had over the last year with potential advertisers, they are now turning into significant interest. You go from making a lot of outgoing calls to receiving a lot of incoming calls."
Naming the team: A pair of former prominent Revs' staffers now working for the Cavaliers isn't the only connection York has to a piece of sports news so big it kicked the World Cup to the curb and turned ESPN into the Lebron James Network.
The Cavaliers were named by Jerry Tomko, the father of former Revolution starting pitcher Brett Tomko, who is currently playing for the Rockies' triple-A club at the age of 41. Among more than 11,000 entries in a name-the-team contest back in 1970, Jerry Tomko's submission of "Cavaliers" was chosen as the winner for the expansion Cleveland franchise.
Tomko, a former Cavs' season-ticket holder, is retired and lives in San Diego with his wife, Donna, an energetic 72-year-old chatterbox who said she chooses to continue working full time to this day. The couple just celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary this past Saturday. When reached by phone Monday night, Jerry Tomko first recalled the time he came to York in the late 1970s to compete in a national softball tournament.
"We beat everyone in Cleveland," he said. "So we got the right to go to the championships in York."
Of course, his claim to fame will always be the guy who named the Cavaliers.
"Brett kind of rides me," Tomko said. "He says every time he's pitching in a game he sees on the videoboard 'Brett Tomko's dad named the Cavs.' He says 'Dad, you get more publicity than I do.'"
— Reach John Walk at email@example.com.