Richard Hofacker was bummed out.
Little wonder. Last fall, the Akron resident kept reading and hearing about Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert forking out big bucks to give a championship ring to everyone in the entire organization.
Yet here he was, the team’s podiatric physician for 30 seasons, and apparently he had been overlooked.
It wasn’t as if Hofacker hadn’t contributed to the team’s title run. In fact, a couple of days before Game 7 of the NBA Finals, he was summoned to deal with a hematoma that had developed under the big toenail of a player he refers to only as “a star point guard.”
Hofacker drained it without incident, and the point guard in question, also known as Kyrie Irving, went on to make the biggest shot in the history of the 47-year-old franchise.
Yet somehow, nobody had remembered to give Hofacker a ring. Sigh.
Let’s just say his outlook changed on Christmas Day, when the Cavs were playing a nationally televised home game against their vanquished rival, Golden State.
Hofacker was in the locker room the morning of the game when the team’s trainer approached and asked, “What did you get for Christmas?”
With a grin, Hofacker replied, “The usual lump of coal.”
At that point, a fellow named LeBron James walked over. The 2016 Finals MVP looked at Hofacker, opened his hand and said, “Merry Christmas, Doc.”
It was a championship ring.
Six months later, talking about that moment still makes Hofacker’s eyes water with joy.
It was a cool gesture by “the kid from Akron,” brightening the life of another kid from Akron — and a fellow grad of St. Vincent-St. Mary.
Hofacker is not easily impressed by basketball stars. He has known every Cleveland Cavalier for decades. He knows many well enough that they rib him as if he were a teammate.
On that memorable Christmas morning, the guys were coming up to congratulate him. When Kevin Love swung by, Hofacker asked him to pose for a photo with him and the ring.
“I want to put this in our national podiatry journal,” he told Love.
Cracked Love, “National podiatry journal? Big day for me.”
Hofacker explodes in laughter, as he is wont to do.
The personable, good-natured 57-year-old — married with four kids — has a thriving private practice in West Akron but is always on call during the basketball season.
Most of his Cavs work is done at Quicken Loans Arena or the team’s practice facility in Independence. Occasionally a player will stop by his office, as LeBron did last summer (after normal business hours, of course).
Hofacker is a Cavs lifer. Counting his years as a ballboy at the late, great Richfield Coliseum, he has been with the team for 42 years.
He landed the ballboy gig by winning a Beacon Journal essay contest. That earned him the right to be a gofer for the princely sum of $5 per night — for 41 home games a year.
But he loved every second of it — so much so that he kept at it for 12 years.
Hofacker’s first year was the 1975-76 “Miracle of Richfield” season. He can regale you with great stories about that magical season when the perpetually horrible Cavs suddenly got good.
“The fans were rabid,” he says, shaking his head in amazement. “Today’s fans, God bless them, but you have to be able to afford those seats. For four bucks, college kids could come in and watch that Miracle team.
“I’ve never heard anything that loud. My ears would just ring at the end of the game.”
Although he has seen an incredible amount of basketball, in all those years he has never seen a guy like his fellow St. V-M grad.
“I always thought [Michael] Jordan was the best I’d ever seen, but I think LeBron is better,” he says during an interview at the Beacon. “He does more things. He has the highest basketball IQ I’ve ever seen.
“But,” he adds, referring to LeBron’s well-documented charity work and the small personal touches he bestows with no fanfare, “his legacy is going to be more off the court than on the court.”
Hofacker — or “Dr. Ballboy,” as former Cav Craig Ehlo used to call him — has had a front-row seat to LeBron’s development both on and off the court.
“I’ve watched a 14-year-old with some arrogance turn into a 32-year-old giant who really cares. I think sometimes he wants to put on [a tough] front, but he does care. He really does care.”
Here’s something about LeBron you’ve likely never heard: He has lovely feet.
“I would say for the amount of miles he’s put on those feet, they’re as smooth as a baby’s behind,” Hofacker says, laughing.
Most basketball feet are a mess.
“These guys do a lot of medial lateral movement, so I have a lot of corns, callouses, that sort of thing.
“A lot of these guys have been playing basketball since they were in kindergarten, so there’s a lot of damage in the toe box. I get these thick, horse hoof-type toenails that I have to grind down.”
Biggest feet: Shaquille O’Neal, size 22. (“Great guy, big dogs.”)
Smallest feet: Mark Price, size 11. (“I could actually wear Mark’s shoes. He’s probably wondering what happened to some of them.”)
The worst feet in Cavs history belonged to “one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met,” Nate Thurmond. When Nate was growing up in Akron — growing faster than Jack’s beanstalk, eventually reaching 6-foot-11 — the family didn’t have a ton of money, so he often wore shoes that were too small, resulting in a nasty case of hammer toe.
When Nate played here in the mid-1970s, he was the highest-paid Cav, making about $350,000 a year. Today, Dr. Ballboy is dealing with feet attached to people who are making as much as $31 million.
“It’s gotten to be high-pressure,” he admits. “You’ve really got to think of these guys as normal patients you see in the office so you don’t get nervous. I can’t nick anybody!
“You pretend you’re working on Bob Dyer — no pressure there.”
Real funny, Dr. Evil.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31.