LeBron James is returning to Cleveland — but he never really left

LeBron James put Akron on the map 13 years ago, when he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated packaged as “The Chosen One.” Now he’s appointed himself to be the man to bring glory back to the region.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: July 11, 2014
Advertisement
;

photo - FILE - In this Dec. 25, 2009 file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James reacts during the second half against the Los Angeles Lakers in an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles. James told Sports Illustrated on Friday, July 11, 2014, he is leaving the Miami Heat to go back to the Cleveland Cavaliers. (AP Photo/Lori Shepler, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 25, 2009 file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James reacts during the second half against the Los Angeles Lakers in an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles. James told Sports Illustrated on Friday, July 11, 2014, he is leaving the Miami Heat to go back to the Cleveland Cavaliers. (AP Photo/Lori Shepler, File)

One of my first encounters with LeBron James occurred nine years ago this month.

It was at a small neighborhood park in Akron, Ohio, LeBron’s hometown and the city in which I landed my first job out of college.

LeBron had just finished his second NBA season. I was in my rookie year as a sportswriter.

Back then, while at the Akron Beacon Journal, my primary assignment was the University of Akron men’s basketball team. The Zips were coached by LeBron’s first high school coach, Keith Dambrot, and featured two of LeBron’s prep teammates, Dru Joyce III and Romeo Travis.

In those days, LeBron always was around, never venturing too far away from home for too long.

But to understand why the NBA’s best player on Friday, after a four-year run with the Miami Heat, announced that he’s returning to his roots, you have to understand that he never really left.

James tried to summarize as much in a thoughtful and heartfelt essay he delivered to SI.com. His words were remarkable, concise yet candid, enough to force you to forgive the controversial manner in which he told the world he was taking his talents to South Beach.

But even that essay only scratched the surface.

From the moment I surveyed the scene at Perkins Park on that muggy summer day nine years ago, it was clear to me that the bond James shares with Akron is stronger than oak. Using his weighty influence, James brought Nike, his biggest sponsor, to town to film a reality show that tracked two basketball teams, one from Chicago and one from New York. It was called “Battlegrounds: King of the Court.” MTV held the show’s rights, and for one night the network turned a tiny park in tiny Akron into a Hollywood set.

LeBron could have filmed that finale anywhere. He chose his hometown.

My story in the next day’s Beacon Journal highlighted LeBron’s decision. My opening line read, “Lights. Cameras. Akron.”

“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball,” James wrote in his essay. “I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”

Whether spotlighting his hometown on a reality show, hosting his annual Bike-a-thon charity in Akron, or with numerous other endeavors through his LeBron James Family Foundation, James always has found ways to give back to his community.

He put Akron on the map 13 years ago, when he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated packaged as “The Chosen One.” Now he’s appointed himself to be the man to bring glory back to the region.

You can’t live in Northeast Ohio for any amount of time, let alone grow up there, without acquiring an intimate knowledge of the heartbreak sports fans have endured. Their sorrow has become legendary, summed up with two-word categorizations that need no explanation.


by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
+ show more


Trending Now


AROUND THE WEB

  1. 1
    Oklahoma TV station apologizes for giving rapper the boot
  2. 2
    ‘True Blood's’ Nelsan Ellis Slams Luke Grimes For Quitting Over Bisexual Storyline
  3. 3
    Peaches Geldof Died of Heroin Overdose: Coroner Rules Socialite's Cause of Death
  4. 4
    Pit Bull Carries Chihuahua to Safety
  5. 5
    OU alum Pat Bowlen resigns control of Denver Broncos
+ show more