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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – Mike Dunleavy Jr. will forever be thankful for his basketball life.
It started at an early age, when Dunleavy tagged along with his father, who played and coached in the NBA.
“I remember getting to be around him when he was finishing up his playing career,” Dunleavy said in an interview with Amico Hoops. “I was only 4- or 5-years old at that time. Then I was with him more when he started coaching,”
Mike Dunleavy Sr. played in the NBA from 1977-90 as a journeyman combo guard. He later became the head coach of Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers, as well as Milwaukee, Portland and the LA Clippers.
For most of that time, Dunleavy Jr. was in the gym with his dad. It was valuable both in terms of bonding, and basketball.
“Just being around those different settings, the practices and games, was a big help for me,” Dunleavy said. “How could it not be? You’re a kid and you get to be around the NBA all the time.”
More than 20 years later, the younger Dunleavy is a member of the Cavaliers. No less than LeBron James indicated the trade for Dunleavy was a very good thing.
James said he wanted a player like Dunleavy on the Cavs.
“Really? He said that?” Dunleavy asked, his smile growing wider. “Well, it’s flattering.”
Dunleavy came from Chicago. The Cavs merely had to surrender the rights to someone named Albert Miralles. No one had ever heard of Miralles and Miralles never played for the Cavs. So the NBA champions got Dunleavy for free.
Dunleavy is 6-foot-9 and known as a fantastic perimeter shooter. He plays both the shooting guard and small forward positions. The Cavs considered him a major nuisance during his seasons with the Bulls (2013-16). “He was a Cavs killer,” said coach Tyronn Lue.
Today, Dunleavy is 36 years old. He missed the first 49 games of last season with a back injury, as the Bulls disappointed and missed the playoffs.
He knew his time in Chicago was up once the Bulls traded Derrick Rose to New York. Later, Bulls lifer Joakim Noah signed there, too. The Bulls were starting over — breaking up a unit that gave the Cavs fits in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2015. Dunleavy was a key part of those Bulls.
“After that trade, it was like Christmas in July for me,” Dunleavy said.
The Cavs envision Dunleavy as a fill-it-up shooter who can relieve or play next to James. Dunleavy can also play next to Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye at times, giving the Cavs three taller, highly dangerous 3-point shooters on the floor at once.
And until J.R. Smith is re-signed, Dunleavy can help fill in at shooting guard.
“His size, shooting, basketball IQ and versatility make him a great fit,” said Cavs general manager David Griffin.
Dunleavy has now played for every team in the Central Division except Detroit. He has compiled career averages of 11.5 points, 4.4 rebounds and 44 percent shooting.
In Cleveland, he said he’s fine with doing whatever the Cavs ask.
“I see myself being involved in whatever way, shape or form we need,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. I can play a lot of different roles, anything necessary to get these guys back to the mountain top. Basically, Coach Lue can use me however he wants. I’m just happy to be here.”
How he got here began years ago, in NBA arenas with his father, long before Dunleavy Jr. became an actual NBA player.
“It molded me into the player I am today,” Dunleavy said. “To have a dad in the business, obviously, was a really cool thing for a kid.”