It's Yet to Be Seen if LeBron Will Raise a Banner in Cleveland, But He's Already Delivering a Winner to Akron Kids

King Midas

It's Yet to be Seen if LeBron Will Raise a Banner in Cleveland, But He's Already Delivering a Winner to Akron Kids

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"They changed the rules so he can't do his camps here, but he still comes around to open gyms a couple times each summer and plays with our guys. This year he brought his two sons to one of our games," says Akron athletic director Tom Wistrcill. "Having him tied to our athletic department and our basketball program is hugely beneficial to everything we're trying to do."

Of course, St. Vincent-St. Mary received a whole new gym 18 months ago, courtesy of James, and, like University of Akron, their sports uniforms are provided by Nike. St. V's basketball coach Dru Joyce, now into his 13th year, has turned the success he had leading James' AAU team, the Shooting Stars, into an annual tournament in Akron.

The 10th Annual King James Shooting Stars Classic Tournament brought over 600 basketball teams to Northeast Ohio the last weekend in April. The wealth of out-of-state teams means much of the $2.5 million the tourney is estimated to bring to Akron will actually be new money. It only seems to be growing.

Coach Lenny Cathcart drove his 12-year-old MSU Skyliners seven-and-a-half hours from New Jersey. Bounced from the tournament, the nonplussed 'tweens lean against a car whose music backdrops our conversation and provides them an opportunity on a couple of occasions to bust a move.

Their team travels a lot, but this is the farthest Cathcart's taken them for a tournament. He's going away impressed.

"I loved it. Well run. Well organized. Helluva teams here. I never knew they made kids that big at 12," Cathcart chuckles. He'll be coming back.

"Everyone's respectful and everyone has a good time ... . Our kids just lost and look at them over there."

Of course, you probably knew that LeBron's return would be good for the Cavs. But it's been even better than that. Just as LeBron took it to another level in the post-season, the Cavs have been breaking records off the court, according to Komoroski.

"Even compared to the priorrun, our television ratings are the highest in history," the Cavaliers CEO says. "Numbers from sell-outs to merchandising levels to all our digital assets are at league-leading levels across many different variables and subsets, from merchandising to you name it."

"LeBron accelerates and compounds," adds Cavaliers PR director Tad Carper. "He's a catalyst and a multiplier."

The past couple years have witnessed James' attempts to use his notoriety, charisma and pop-culture power to bridge his way into film and television the way many rappers have. His local Spring Hill Productions Company has been busy pitching and scoring projects that typically play on James' basketball notoriety.

This summer, James will make his feature film debut appearing as himself, alongside rising-star comedian Amy Schumer and actor Bill Hader, in the new Judd Apatow movie, Trainwreck. James plays Hader's "real life" best friend.

In February, Hollywood Reporter published an article enumerating a slate of shows and pitches including those currently in production for Disney (Becoming) and Starz (Survivor's Remorse), sort of the "before and after" of James' story. Among the potential entries were a CNBC show where James and Maverick Carter rescue distressed businesses (Property Brothers II maybe?), a male-targeted Esquire Network show about one's "bucket list," and a trivia game show which recruited its first contestants from Northeast Ohio.

Though based here in Northeast Ohio, they were reportedly opening an office in California. Whether any of this would impact Ohio is unclear; indeed, whether James can even make this transition (Kazaam, anyone?) is open to debate.

The Hollywood Reporter piece cited an anonymous agent (aren't they all?) who was skeptical they could sell material based on something other than James' life and experiences. "If they can do that, they've got a shot. If not, it's done as soon as his basketball career dims."

Even should that be true — and he's been media-savvy enough until now not to doubt him — James has taken the steps necessary to make this area, his home, healthier, not just for this season, but for years to come.

As Campbell notes, "Changing graduation rates is just like winning a championship. It is a monumental task. So the only way he can do that is with an awesome team around him."

The same could be said about pulling Northeast Ohio out of its doldrums. LeBron was never going to be the linchpin in this long-wished-for renaissance, but he could be a big key in that puzzle, as he is for the Cavaliers.

However, as James cautioned early this season, "Patience." Some things take time to take root (even if the team's bulldog defensive demeanor seemed to sprout nearly overnight).

"Having a likeable star and a winning team associated with your city is nice and puts a little burnish on what's otherwise not a great reputation for Cleveland," says Matheson. "It's certainly a lot more fun having a team that's going to win 50-60 and maybe go deep into the playoffs, depending on injuries and suspensions. That's a lot more fun than holding your nose and watching your team go 20-62."

Komoraski already can feel the change in people's attitudes brought on by LeBron's return and the incipient arrival of the Republican National Convention next year. It's like the wind's changed, it's blowing out to right and Jim Thome's up.

"We've got a journey to go and who knows what will happen?" says Komoroski. "But right now we've got a lot of great people and LeBron coming back just amplifies and helps accelerate everything we hope and aspire to as a region. There's a lot of good things that have been happened and hopefully a lot more to come."

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