Rubber City Royalty
LeBron James Energizes Akron with Welcome Home Celebration
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/GettyImages
On a perfect August evening in Akron, nearly 25,000 Cavalier fans witnessed the re-coronation of a King – sharing a celebration of his past, present and future.
But Friday’s festivities weren’t focused on LeBron James’ exploits on the floor. They were focused on his achievements in the community, his contributions to the city he grew up in and how he’s inspired fans ranging from grade-schoolers to grandmas.
And yeah, it was pretty damn cool to have Sklyar Grey serenade an entire football stadium with her hit, “Coming Home” – followed by the world’s best basketball player (and his family) winding through the crowd to take the stage to a standing-O.
LeBron spoke to the packed venue for about 15 minutes – thanking fans, family and all of Northeast Ohio for the warm welcome. With hundreds of bikes lined up at opposite end zones, he lauded his Wheels for Education kids and recited “The Promise” with them. The four-time MVP finished up by revving up the crowd with the “O-H …” cheer and ended his time on stage by saying: “I love you. I’m back” before a fireworks display sent everyone home happy.
Friday was also the first time the man himself spoke to media since he made the momentous decision to return to Cleveland in early July.
LeBron described the timeline of his league-altering verdict last month in Las Vegas.
”I think once I got to Vegas from my basketball camp, I just started to kind of narrow down the teams,” explained James. “That's when I was able to sit with my agent and talk about the pros and cons of each team that we kind of talked to and narrowed it down. I kind of made my decision over those 48 hours, my last 48 hours in Vegas.”
Since inking the free agent deal to resume his career with the Cavs, the roster has been in-flux in the following weeks. But LeBron spoke effusively of the Wine and Gold’s young stalwarts.
”I love Kyrie's game – I think he could be one of the best point guards in our league,” praised James. “I love the chip on Dion's shoulder. Where everyone else looks at it as a negative, I look at it as a positive, and I'm looking forward to getting with him. I love how active Tristan is, both running the floor – rebounding, setting screens, and finishing at the rim.
”Obviously, I don't have to comment on Andy. You give me nine Andys, I'll be the tenth guy, and I'll be alright.”
The sun had set over InfoCision Stadium by the time LeBron took the stage at the 50-yard-line. The Cavaliers’ hype-man extraordinaire, Ahmaad Crump, got the crowd worked up to start the evening. LeBron’s high school coach, Dru Joyce, spoke about the guest of honor’s prep days. Akron mayor Don Plusquellic thanked the young King for his contributions to the city – describing him as a “better person than he is a basketball player.” And, of course, Mr. Cavalier – Austin Carr – took his turn working the crowd into a pre-LeBron lather.
Although he admittedly wished it was September 8 instead of August 8 so he was closer to Training Camp, LeBron focused more on his Wheels for Education kids than on hoops. But he had to admit to the enormity of his influence.
“I think, first of all, just my presence alone will give back to the city – and these kids are going to get most of it,” said James. “When I get on the floor, that's when the city will benefit from me being back because I play the game at a high level. I respect the game at a high level, and I'm going to do whatever it takes to help us win.
“As far as what I do off the court, I'm going to help these kids and lead these kids to become greater than maybe even some of the people in their own household think they can become. I think my presence alone will raise everyone's excitement, and not only in Cleveland, but in Akron and Northeast Ohio. But these kids are more important, as far as what I do off the court.”
Friday night was a perfect night to celebrate LeBron’s arrival in Akron. But he knows that when the smoke clears – to paraphrase his poignant essay on SI.com – it’ll be time to get back to work. And despite the oddsmakers’ expectations, James knows how hard it is to take a team from the NBA’s nadir to the top of the mountain.
”Obviously, I understand that it's going to be a process,” explained LeBron. “I've returned home, but it's a different situation than when I left it. The team that I left, we had been through the grind. We had been through the struggles. We had lost, we had won. We never got to the mountaintop, but we've been through so much. This is different.”
LeBron will continue writing his – and the Cavaliers’ story – when Training Camp actually does tip off in late September. Both Dru Joyce and Austin Carr alluded to this summer’s seismic events as part of this region’s “destiny.”
After the events of the past few weeks, it’s hard to argue against otherwise.