LeBron James (6'8''-SF-84) squeezed his mom's hands, the way he did as a kid.
Moments before being honored again in his hometown, where they still love him and always will, James stood among family members and friends. With the days in this summer of summers dwindling quickly, this was another moment to savor. So as he waited to be introduced, James hugged his mom, Gloria, around the neck, took out his phone and snapped their picture.
He was home.
"I know this place," he said, "and it knows me."
Fresh off leading the U.S. men's team to a gold medal at the London Olympics, James was praised Sunday during a minor league game for his recent basketball accomplishments an MVP award, NBA title and the gold and for giving back to Akron, where his "Wheels For Education" initiative has provided inner-city kids with supplies, programs, mentors, and above all, hope.
"I was one of these kids," James said. "It means everything to me to be able to give back. I have a passion for it. I love seeing kids smile, and for them to have someone who can lead them. For me to be in this position and being able to help and give back, means a lot."
James received a warm ovation from the crowd of 3,843 more than double the average attendance when he walked onto the infield at Canal Park, home of the Double-A Akron Aeros, during the middle of the eighth inning escorted by Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic.
As James reached the area in front of the pitcher's mound, infielders for the Reading Phillies lined up on the grass between first and second base and gawked at the superstar.
It was also going according to plan before a malfunctioning microphone caused several anxious and awkward moments.
Plusquellic's comments kept cutting out over the ballpark's speaker system, allowing two anti-James fans, one of them wearing a Cleveland Browns jersey, sitting a few rows behind Akron's dugout to shout "traitor" and other insults at James, who seemed unsure of what to do as the delay dragged on and stadium personnel scrambled to find a new microphone.
When it became apparent James would not be able to address the crowd, he posed for pictures and then left the field, slapping hands with a few Reading players who leaned over their dugout railing to greet the All-Star, who was mobbed by fans as he made his way up the aisle.
It was somewhat poetic, James going in one week from stepping onto a gold-medal podium with his teammates on the world's largest stage to a mix-up inside a minor league ballpark where he grew up and where Thursday's postgame entertainment will include midget wrestling.
Before taking the field, James retreated to a dusty stairwell corner with large rakes leaning on one cinder-block wall and reflected on his spectacular summer, a three-month whirlwind of awards that began with his third MVP trophy and was capped by a second gold medal.
James told the Associated Press he would like to play in a fourth Olympics. He has not yet informed USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo of his intentions, but the 27-year-old said he'd like to step inside the five rings one more time.
"We haven't had that conversation," James said. "But if I'm healthy, I did the math and I'll be 31, and if I have the opportunity to be out there, I will do it. I love it. I love being a part of it and representing my country. I don't know what may happen in four years, but it would be great to be back out there again. Definitely."
Since winning gold, James said he hasn't heard from any members of the immortalized 1992 Dream Team, which scoffed at the idea that this year's U.S. Olympic team could beat them.
"Nah," he said. "I don't expect to hear from any of them."
James was the U.S. team's best all-around player in London, doing whatever coach Mike Krzyzewski needed while leading the Americans to their second straight gold. He was virtually unstoppable, just as he was in carrying the Miami Heat to an NBA championship in June.
In doing so, he silenced those critics who wondered if he could ever win the big one. James is on top, and he plans to stay there.
"I want that feeling again," he said of winning his first title.
James doesn't know if being a champion and the only player other than Michael Jordan to win an MVP, an NBA title and Olympic gold in the same year will change the way he's viewed. Since announcing his decision to leave Cleveland as a free agent two years ago, he has been cast as the villain, reviled outside South Florida perhaps more than any athlete in memory.
Some fans have moved on. Some can't. Some never will.
James once succumbed to the pressure produced by the constant condemnation. He's not bothered by it any longer.
Love him or hate him, James is only going to be himself.
"I don't even get involved with that anymore," he said. "I don't look for it. I don't shy away from it. I just kind of roll with what's going on. For me, and it started before last season, I came in with a different mindset and a different attitude and it didn't matter if you believed in me or not, I was still going to be how I was and stay true to who I was and who I am.
John Wall and Wizards turn back Hawks, 115-99, move on to Eastern Conference semifinals - 13 hours ago
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Washington Wizards point guard John Wall (6'4''-PG-90, college: Kentucky) ended his night early, walking off the court with the clock stopped late in the final quarter. He deserved the proper ovation for a road villain - hard handshakes from teammates and scattered boos from a salty crowd - after closing out the Atlanta Hawks. As the Wizards defeated Atlanta, 115-99, in Game 6 of a first-round playoff series and advance to meet the top-seeded Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals,... [read more]
Washington Wizards point guard John Wall (6'4''-PG-90, college: Kentucky) ended his night early, walking off the court with the clock stopped late in the final quarter. He deserved the proper ovation for a road villain - hard handshakes from teammates and scattered boos from a salty crowd - after closing out the Atlanta Hawks. As the Wizards defeated Atlanta, 115-99, in Game 6 of a first-round playoff series and advance to meet the top-seeded Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Wall stamped this elimination game with a performance suited for franchise lore. In the final quarter, as the Wizards nearly lost a huge lead, Wall outscored the Hawks by two, pouring in 19 of his game-high 42 points. The performance earned Wall and his team a date with Boston, where the best-of-seven series starts Sunday at 1 p.m. Wall's output ranks as the third-highest total by a Wizards or Bullets player in the postseason - but it was a defensive play that defined Wall's night. The Wizards went ahead 68-46 early in the second half, but that lead turned to rubble. With less than nine minutes to play, the Hawks trailed just 93-90 and point guard Dennis Schroeder (5'11''-PG-93, agency: Octagon Europe) thought he had a clear path to the rim to pull even closer. That's when Wall chased down Schroder, erasing his fast-break layup with a block. He then drove and finished at the other end to push the lead to 95-90. 'It's really not fair - a point guard being able to do what he does. It's only one player in the league who does that, and we all know who that is,' Coach Scott Brooks said, referring to LeBron James. 'But he does it every game. That's a sign of a champion. You chase down plays. You stay in plays.' It wasn't just Wall. The Wizards collected 16 steals - Kelly Oubre (6'7''-G/F-95, college: Kansas) Jr. performed as a defensive bugaboo with five - and blocked seven shots. 'We needed that energy on defense,' Bradley Beal (6'5''-SG-93, college: Florida) said. 'Those extra effort plays. 'We were flying around. It was all about our defense tonight. We had great, great baskets down the stretch. We made some tough baskets, but we couldn't have been in that situation without getting those stops.' Every time the Hawks worked back into the game, with the Philips Arena crowd chanting and screaming throughout the final 12 minutes, the Wizards responded to that desperation with their own road resolve. When the Hawks again pulled within a field goal with 5:32 remaining, Wall found Beal cutting around a screen on the next possession, and Beal's 16-foot jump shot was pure, just as it was much of the night. Beal made 11 of 17 shots for 31 points, his third 30-plus game of the playoffs. In the opening minutes, Wall didn't need to chase down an errant outlet pass by the Hawks, but that hustle and save led to Beal's three-pointer in transition. In the first half, the Wizards outscored the Hawks on the fast break 24-4. Jason Smith also showed the necessary grit and toughness just by being active. On Friday morning, Smith's left calf strain was considered so serious that Brooks felt he might have to keep his backup center on the sideline. But when starter Marcin Gortat (7'0''-C-84) picked up two fouls in the opening 4 minutes, Smith got up from his seat and unfastened his warmups. The grit was tested again in the closing seconds of the quarter, when Beal stood up for himself and the Wizards showed that they would not back down from this fight. After a steal by Oubre, Beal raced in for a breakaway dunk. As he landed, Kent Bazemore (6'5''-G/F-89, college: ODU) subtly pushed his side, and the contact sent Beal sliding into fans seated along the baseline. Beal popped up, his ire directed at official Bill Spooner, and he bumped into Bazemore's chest as several teammates rushed in and showed their displeasure. There was only a shove here and there - and a very angry Smith gesturing toward Bazemore - but the anger abated. It was an unusually fiery moment in a series that, beyond the talk of 'double MMA' and a few GIFs of Wall dunking over or staring down Schroder, had lacked sizzle, overshadowed by fouls and missed jump shots. Markieff Morris (6'10''-F-89, college: Kansas), averaging nearly five fouls in the series entering Friday, had spent too much time on the bench after reaching, hacking and fouling his matchup, Paul Millsap. And through five games, the Wizards had struggled to find any offensive rhythm, shooting 43.9 percent from the field. On Friday night, Morris managed to get through the first half without committing a foul and subsequently had his best night since Game 1. Morris started the game with a turnaround baseline jumper, then air-balled his next attempt. But after the gaffe, Morris transformed into a floor-spacing forward by knocking down a pair of three-pointers in the opening quarter and finishing with 17 points. After 40 minutes, Morris had just two fouls. Once Morris figured out how to remain on the court - his presence allowed the Wizards to keep their best unit intact - the glossy veneer returned to Washington's offense. The Wizards saw some of the same shots they couldn't make in previous games. On Friday night, those shots fell - the Wizards shot 65.8 percent from the field in the first half en route to a searing 65 points. The offense again looked inspired, and late in the half Brooks was so fired up after watching Beal work over Tim Hardaway Jr. (6'6''-G-92, college: Michigan) Jr. and cap a possession with a 23-foot jumper that Brooks slapped his shooting guard on his rear as he ran back on defense. By halftime, the Wizards' defense also deserved a hand - the team had forced 11 steals, the most since the Philadelphia 76ers collected 14 during the first half of a playoff game May 13, 1999. Even so, the defensive effort could not last. In the third quarter, the Hawks cut into the 22-point deficit and scored 36 points. Then three minutes into the final frame, a defensive scramble allowed Hawks guard Jose Calderon to shoot an open corner three - and Atlanta trailed just 93-90. The Hawks had asked one final question. Wall and the Wizards had the answer. 'It's the same thing they did to us two years ago,' Wall said, recalling the 2015 playoff series against the Hawks. 'We had a chance to win Game 5 here; we lost it. In Game 6, they beat us in our home, and all we could do is have sad faces and go back home. So we came in with that determination and focus that we wanted to do the same thing them guys did to us two years ago, and me and Brad led the way. ... We didn't want to have a Game 7.' Courtesy of: washingtonpost.com
Celtics Destroy Bulls 105-83, Overcome 2-0 Deficit to Win Series - 14 hours ago
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The Boston Celtics completed their first-round playoff comeback against the Chicago Bulls on Friday with a commanding 105-83 victory in Game 6 at the United Center to win the series, 4-2. Boston dropped the first two games of the series but won four straight after Rajon Rondo (6'1''-PG-86, college: Kentucky) suffered a fractured right thumb. All five Celtics starters scored in double figures, and Avery Bradley (6'2''-PG-90, college: Texas) led the balanced effort with 23 points. Jimmy But... [read more]
The Boston Celtics completed their first-round playoff comeback against the Chicago Bulls on Friday with a commanding 105-83 victory in Game 6 at the United Center to win the series, 4-2. Boston dropped the first two games of the series but won four straight after Rajon Rondo (6'1''-PG-86, college: Kentucky) suffered a fractured right thumb. All five Celtics starters scored in double figures, and Avery Bradley (6'2''-PG-90, college: Texas) led the balanced effort with 23 points. Jimmy Butler (6'7''-G/F-89, college: Marquette) posted 23 points, seven rebounds and three steals on the other side, but it wasn't enough for the Bulls to stave off elimination. Boston could do little wrong on the offensive side and turned Friday's contest into a blowout with its onslaught from the outside. The Celtics drilled 16 three-pointers and shot 48.8 percent from the field, torching Chicago's defense throughout. Isaiah Thomas (5'9''-PG-89, college: Washington) couldn't find the touch from deep (1-of-7), but he sliced through Bulls defenders at will, which created many of the open triples for his teammates. Chicago didn't exactly counter from long range on the other side at 4-of-19 (21.1 percent). In a similar pattern to other wins, the Celtics wasted little time seizing control of the game with 30 points in the first quarter. The Celtics never looked back and sapped Chicago's will with a 34-18 third quarter. The Celtics are the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and have larger aspirations than just a first-round win against an overmatched opponent, and they showed flashes of dominance Friday. If they can replicate that in the second round and beyond, they may be a serious threat to the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Courtesy of: bleacherreport.com
Erik Spoelstra Has Interest In Running Heat Front Office Someday - 14 hours ago
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Erik Spoelstra has interest in running the Miami Heat when Pat Riley retires. Spoelstra was asked about it during an interview with Adrian Wojnarowski. "Short answer would be, I'm a Pat Riley disciple, and, like I've said, he's always pushed me and nurtured me for the next steps," Spoelstra said during the interview recorded in Southern California. "So, yes, that I'd love to have that opportunity years down the line from the Arison family, because I believe in them so much as human beings. [read more]
Erik Spoelstra has interest in running the Miami Heat when Pat Riley retires. Spoelstra was asked about it during an interview with Adrian Wojnarowski. "Short answer would be, I'm a Pat Riley disciple, and, like I've said, he's always pushed me and nurtured me for the next steps," Spoelstra said during the interview recorded in Southern California. "So, yes, that I'd love to have that opportunity years down the line from the Arison family, because I believe in them so much as human beings. They're such good people and family oriented." Spoelstra said he is comfortable in his current role Under Micky Arison and Nick Arison. Spoelstra already has a seat in all organizational meetings with Riley and Andy Elisburg. "Pat, he's going to go on, hopefully for a while," Spoelstra said. "I think he's younger now than he was when he was coaching. And he's such a visionary. The way things are set up right now, look, I want this to be the set-up that it is right now. "I feel involved. Every meeting that's important, that deals with the organization and personnel, it's usually just four of us that get in a room, Pat, Nick, Andy and myself. And if it really gets to a level, then Micky will. I couldn't ask for anything more. I don't feel like I need more right now." Riley signed a five-year extension with the Heat a year ago. Courtesy of: realgm.com
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