Takin' It to the Streets

July 1, 2010 could have been a somber sports day in Northeast Ohio. It could have been a day that a tough luck region succumbed to the national media’s summer browbeating.

But Northeast Ohioans don’t take matters lying down, and on July 1 – the eagerly-awaited start date of the Free Agent binge – this Rust Belt region showed LeBron and the rest of the country what they’re all about.

Since the Cavaliers season ended on May 13, everyone from Spike Lee to the President of the United States has tried to pry LeBron away from his hometown. And on Thursday morning, teams began the official process of wooing the young King.

And while Cavalier fans in Cleveland, Akron and the surrounding areas can’t do a sign-and-trade, hire the new head coach or create cap space, what they can do is take to the streets to show their solidarity. The two-time MVP promised to light Cleveland up like Vegas and, for the past seven years, he’s done exactly that.

Fans might have noticed the push already – in downtown Cleveland and along the route Akronites like LeBron travel to get there.

There are seven signs (and themes) you’ll see adorning building facades, stretched across busy streets and displayed by a small army of supporters – stationed from Carnegie to St. Clair, and several points throughout.

The signs will read “COMMITMENT,” “TEAM,” “FAMILY,” “MISSION” “COMMUNITY,” “HOME” and, finally, “MORE THAN A PLAYER.”

Those same messages will be reflected on the street team members’ t-shirts.

The building banners appear on the Crown Plaza Garage, the 800 Superior Parking Garage, the Cathedral Parking Garage and the Rockwell Building – (directly across from LRMR’s offices in the IMG building).

Above E. 9th Street – the main artery through the heart of Downtown, a pair of 28’ x 5’ foot “MORE THAN A PLAYER” banners stretch across the avenue.

Downtown business will also show their support. Playhouse Square, Hopkins Airport, Key Bank, as well as the Indians and Browns will run the “HOME” message across their LED displays.

But Northeast Ohioans don’t have to wait until they reach the big city to feel the love. Along overpasses on 1-77 -- from Route 18 (LeBron’s exit) into downtown, those same messages will rotate, with “MORE THAN A PLAYER” on overpasses to and from his hometown of Akron.

When LeBron and his suitors roll through town in the days that precede the Independence Day holiday, there will be no mistaking the passion of the only fans No. 6 has ever known.

In New York or Chicago or Miami, the young superstar is a luxury item. And in any city he’s a cultural icon. But Northeast Ohioans see LeBron James, the man.

This is our home and his. He made his name at a Catholic high school in Akron – selling out the J.A.R. and excelling under the Friday night lights. He’s gone from a floppy-eared teenager to the most recognizable face in sports before our eyes. When he received his second MVP award, he did so flanked by his high school sweetheart, his two sons and a few thousand locals who feel like He’s one of them.

So while the pundits and prognosticators see the pull of the bright lights and big cities, Northeast Ohio will show LeBron that home is where the heart is. And here, there’s an amazing story with an ending that’s yet to be written.

Free agency is a fact of life in the NBA, and in the next few days, LeBron James will be weighing his options very carefully.

All we can do in Northeast Ohio is illustrate that the young King’s best and most successful option is HOME, and that his kingdom rests right in his backyard.