Did you know that according to UDisc there are fifteen disc golf courses within a 25-mile radius of downtown Cleveland? Did you also know the availability of disc golf throughout Northeast Ohio was why Lauri Markkanen signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers this offseason? Well, it's not exactly why Markkanen agreed to a four-year, $67 million contract in a three-team sign-and-trade deal between Cleveland, the Chicago Bulls and the Portland Trail Blazers but it was an added bonus for the Finnish seven-footer when coming to Cleveland.
"I didn't know about that at first, but I think it's pretty cool to hear it," joked Markkanen. "Obviously, during the season I won't have much time to play but it's great to see the sport growing here already for sure."
Markkanen picked up disc golf as a hobby nearly a decade ago when he and his brothers, Miikka and Eero, were looking for something to do to pass the time while growing up in Finnland. From there it became one of his passions off the court and other than video games and his family, one of his favorite things to spend time doing when not playing basketball. Markkanen hopes he can share disc golf with his new Cleveland teammates to bond with them off the court. He also jokingly says he'll take it easy on them but there are no promises. But, he shares he's by no means a pro like he is on the NBA hardwood, but is looking forward to having so many courses on hand while he and his family settle into their new home.
Speaking of family, his wife Verna and their two children were a big part of Markkanen's decision in signing with the Cavaliers. It's been reported that Markkanen had interest from Cleveland as well as Dallas, New Orleans, Minnesota, Sacramento, San Antonio and Boston. But, even though the shores of Lake Erie aren't the most appealing free agency destination to most, in Markkanen's eyes Cleveland is laid back and easygoing, just like him. That's what coming here so appealing to him. But, he also wanted to do what was best for him and his family. So although he and his family have only technically been Clevelanders for less than two weeks, Markkanen says the community has been nothing but great to all of them as they plant their roots it just reaffirms his decision.
"I've got nothing but good things to say," said Markkanen. "I love how nice everybody is and I'm glad to be driving on a highway without traffic.
"Everyone that we have met has been really nice to me and to my family so we're really excited and obviously we're happy to be in Cleveland."
It's not just Cleveland's vibes that resonated with Markkanen, it's the Cavaliers organization as a whole as well. Markkanen is a huge fan of head coach J.B. Bickerstaff's approach and truly believes that his new coach will put him in the best position to succeed every time he's on the floor as both a shooter and a big man. After being viewed as an All-Star caliber player in Chicago alongside Zach LaVine, the perception around Markkanen changed as the Bulls made moves to not fully support him and his abilities. Now that he's with the Cavaliers, a team that wants him and believes in him, the former Arizona Wildcat can showcase what Chicago, and the rest of the league, are missing out on.
"I feel like I get to play basketball the way I know rather than just having to play one role," shared Markkanen. "After talking with the coaching staff, I feel like it's pretty free here."
There's also the fact that Markkanen loves what the Cavaliers are building as well. During his brief time at Cleveland Clinic Courts, the team's practice facility, Markkanen has already become familiar with Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley and Isaac Okoro, key pieces in Cleveland's young core, after practicing with them. His ability as an elite three-point shooter along with the fact that he's only 24 years old makes him a natural fit in the team's young foundation. But, with four years of NBA experience already under his belt, he also can act as one of the key veteran presences in the locker room alongside Allen and Collin Sexton as well.
"It's kind of crazy that it's even a question," said Markkanen. "I'm 24 years old and even if I'm a veteran or not, I look at myself and know I've still got the best basketball ahead of me. So, I'm ready to get to work with these guys and leading and that's all I'm looking forward to doing. I think we got a good group."
Markkanen is also fully aware of the fact that his arrival in Cleveland also meant the departure of Northeast Ohio's own Larry Nance Jr. to Portland. But, like Nance, Markkanen wants to embrace the greater-Cleveland community and truly make it his home. Despite living in Chicago for four years, Markkanen never attended a single Bears, Cubs or White Sox game. Now that he's in Cleveland, he wants to fix that – especially now that the Browns are likely Super Bowl contenders.
Markkanen does admit he needs to learn more about American football since he grew up a fan of European football and hockey. But, he promises that he's one of the most approachable guys you'll meet. So, if you happen to see Markkanen about town or on the disc golf course (it's hard to miss a seven-foot-tall blonde guy) welcome him to Cleveland and maybe talk a little football with him to show why he should be a Browns fan. Or recommend some places he can take his family to eat since they're looking for that as well.
The Cavaliers were able to land a player in Markkanen that wants to be here and that in itself is special – not many young multimillionaires as talented as him willingly want to move to Cleveland. That, along with the fact he wants to embrace the community, should make Cleveland want to love him back even more. The Cavaliers got a special player in Markkanen and he makes the team's future even brighter both on and off the court.