Akron shows love to its favorite son, LeBron
James thanks Akron and Cleveland for support through the years
LeBron James climbed on his bicycle Saturday morning and fastened his safety helmet.
Perhaps surprisingly, he didn't need it. The only people who turned out for James' fifth annual ''King for Kids Bikeathon'' in downtown Akron were the ones who still love their hometown hero.
Wearing a red ''Enjoy Akron'' shirt and shorts, James pedaled down Main Street to cheers from a crowd that was significantly smaller than years past, but the day was without any protestors or disturbances. It was his first public appearance in Akron since bolting the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat last month in a decision that left the majority of Northeast Ohio feeling hurt and betrayed.
Fans lashed out by burning his Cavaliers jerseys and making up a few new ones, but the ride Saturday was void of vitriol. Police on hand said there wasn't more security than in the past for the one-mile bike ride. The eight-mile ride was eliminated by the city because of the costs to close roads and pay for overtime.
Akron's Dorothy Oden arrived early holding a ''Good luck LeBron, we love U'' sign.
''LeBron is one of our kids. We've watched him grow up from a little kid to the man he is now,'' Oden said. ''I still love him. He's done a lot for Akron and a lot for Cleveland, and the haters need to stop.''
James' Grandmothers Fan Club arrived with a ''Thanks! LeBron 4 everything! Your grammies got your back!'' banner that stretched across Main Street.
James did not speak to reporters but addressed the crowd before the ride, thanking the cities of Akron and Cleveland. He was sharply criticized for his recent ad in the Akron Beacon Journal that thanked Akron for its support but did not mention the city of Cleveland or the Cavaliers. James finally addressed Cleveland but didn't mention the Cavs.
''To the city of Cleveland, my fans in Cleveland and my fans in Northeast Ohio, thank you for the last seven years and the years in the future,'' James said. ''I want to thank the city of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio for all the great years that I've had.''
James' business partner, Maverick Carter, said James has been bothered by the backlash but understands why fans are upset.
''He's dealing with it. He made a career decision,'' Carter said. ''He's bothered by it because he loves the people in Northeast Ohio, but he understands that they're upset he doesn't play for the Cavs anymore.''
Jessica Gjurkovitsch, a 15-year-old who attends Woodridge High school, appeared at the event wearing a James No. 6 Heat T-shirt. She admitted to wearing a ''Quitness'' T-shirt, playing off his Nike ''Witness'' nickname, in the days after James' decision, but has since decided to support James again.
''I never hated him, I was just mad he was leaving,'' she said, adding that she just got the Heat T-shirt and hasn't really worn it out in public yet. A fan was ejected from an Indians game recently for nearly inciting a riot by wearing his James No. 6 Heat jersey.
''I won't wear it to an Indians game,but I'll wear it out in public,'' Gjurkovitsch said. ''I'm not scared.''
James recently returned from a youth camp in San Diego but still spends a large part of his time at his home in Bath Township. He previously has appeared at his bikeathon with NBA friends such as Dwyane Wade of the Heat and New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul.
Neither attended this one.
''This shows just how much love the city has for LeBron,'' said Gloria James, LeBron's mother. She did not want to discuss basketball, the Cavaliers or the Heat. ''The support the city of Akron shows for myself and for LeBron, it's more like a family rather than just a community. The fact we could be here and help kids out with the bikes means a whole lot. It feels great.''
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