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.
Leonard scores 25 as Spurs dismantle ailing Cavs, 103-74 - 9 hours ago
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The Cavaliers acknowledged having heavy legs, but there is something far weightier on the minds of the defending NBA champions. Cleveland is in the midst of one of its worst stretches of the season and there is little time to fix it. Kawhi Leonard (6'7''-F-91, college: San Diego St.) scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the ailing Cavs 103-74 on Monday night in a showdown that turned into a major letdown for Cleveland. "The way we've been struggling, (the Spurs are) the l... [read more]
The Cavaliers acknowledged having heavy legs, but there is something far weightier on the minds of the defending NBA champions. Cleveland is in the midst of one of its worst stretches of the season and there is little time to fix it. Kawhi Leonard (6'7''-F-91, college: San Diego St.) scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the ailing Cavs 103-74 on Monday night in a showdown that turned into a major letdown for Cleveland. "The way we've been struggling, (the Spurs are) the last team that you want to play," said LeBron James (6'8''-SF-84), who was fine after taking elbow to the neck. "A well-oiled machine like this. They exploit everything that you're not doing well at that point in time of the season and right now we're not playing good basketball." James, who finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 29 minutes, said he will play Thursday at Chicago. Cleveland (47-26) dropped its second in a row, set a season low for points and fell a half-game behind Boston (48-26) for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Cavaliers have nine games remaining, all against teams in the East, including a showdown at Boston on April 5. James said the standings "always matter," but playing more consistently is far more important and he refused to blame injuries or an arduous schedule for the team's troubles. "It matters more that we're playing better basketball than where we're at," he said. "If that results in us having the No. 1 seed, the No. 2 seed, 3 or whatever the hell it is, we need to play better basketball. That's what it comes down to." What Cleveland is seeking, the Spurs have already found. San Antonio (57-16) is two games behind Golden State (59-14) for the league's best record entering a home showdown with the Warriors on Wednesday. The Spurs have won five straight and eight of 10 after sweeping their season series against the Cavaliers. "It was a big game, but in the end, it's just one game, and one win," San Antonio guard Tony Parker (6'2''-PG-82) said. "We're trying to be consistent. We're trying to play the same way every game. It was definitely surprising. Coming off a loss, I thought they would play with a lot more energy, but it can happen. It's a long season. It's just one game and I'm sure they're going to bounce back and use this game as motivation." LaMarcus Aldridge (6'11''-F/C-85, college: Texas) and Pau Gasol (7'0''-F/C-80) added 14 points apiece for the Spurs, who won their fifth straight. San Antonio led by as many as 33 to the delight of the sold-out crowd. "We did a good job coming out early and then keeping our foot on the pedal," Leonard said. The Spurs' bench outscored the Cavaliers' 49-24. Cleveland, which was already without Iman Shumpert, received more bad news Monday morning when it was announced that Kyle Korver will miss at least two more games with a sore left foot. "You lose Korver and Shumpert off your bench and things tend to change," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. "With those two guys out, we tried some different things and it didn't work. It was not on the bench. It was on me." Cleveland opted to play its stars rather than sit them for rest, but the trio of James, Kyrie Irving (6'3''-G-92, college: Duke) and Kevin Love sat out the fourth quarter of its second rout in the past two weeks. Lue said he has considered resting his stars over the team's final nine games, which James is not in favor of. "Coach is going to have his logic of things, but we need to play," James said. James exited with 25 seconds remaining in the third after taking an elbow to his neck from David Lee on a rebound. James continually rubbed the area before collapsing after he crossed midcourt. He remained on the floor for about a minute before walking unassisted to the bench. James left for the locker room early in the fourth quarter during a timeout, but said afterward he is fine. Courtesy of: msn.com
Jazz beat Pelicans 108-100 behind Gobert, hot shooting - 9 hours ago
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Rudy Gobert (7'1''-C-92) had 20 points, 19 rebounds and five blocks to lead the Utah Jazz over the New Orleans Pelicans 108-100 on Monday night. Rodney Hood (6'8''-F-92, college: Duke) scored 20 points, Joe Ingles (6'8''-SF-87) added 19 and George Hill chipped in with 17 as that Jazz trio combined to make a dozen 3-pointers. Utah (45-29) swept the season series 3-0 after dominating from the perimeter for four quarters. Anthony Davis (6'10''-C-93, college: Kentucky) had 36 points and 17 re... [read more]
Rudy Gobert (7'1''-C-92) had 20 points, 19 rebounds and five blocks to lead the Utah Jazz over the New Orleans Pelicans 108-100 on Monday night. Rodney Hood (6'8''-F-92, college: Duke) scored 20 points, Joe Ingles (6'8''-SF-87) added 19 and George Hill chipped in with 17 as that Jazz trio combined to make a dozen 3-pointers. Utah (45-29) swept the season series 3-0 after dominating from the perimeter for four quarters. Anthony Davis (6'10''-C-93, college: Kentucky) had 36 points and 17 rebounds for New Orleans. Jrue Holiday (6'4''-PG-90, college: UCLA) scored 19, but the Pelicans (31-43) lost for only the third time in nine games. New Orleans got no closer than six in the fourth quarter. The Pelicans cut the deficit to 102-96 on a 3-pointer by Davis, but Utah answered with a jumper from Joe Johnson and a 3 from Hood to seal the win in the final minute. Courtesy of: foxsports.com
Westbrook, Thunder top Mavs 92-91 with 14-0 finishing run - 10 hours ago
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Russell Westbrook (6'3''-PG-88, college: UCLA) rescued Oklahoma City with a stunning rally and guaranteed the first losing record for Dallas in 17 full seasons under owner Mark Cuban. Westbrook hit a pull-up jumper with seven seconds left and the Thunder erased a 13-point deficit in the final four minutes for a 92-91 victory over the Mavericks on Monday night. The six-time All-Star and current NBA scoring leader, whom Cuban steadfastly claims isn't a superstar, had his third straight trip... [read more]
Russell Westbrook (6'3''-PG-88, college: UCLA) rescued Oklahoma City with a stunning rally and guaranteed the first losing record for Dallas in 17 full seasons under owner Mark Cuban. Westbrook hit a pull-up jumper with seven seconds left and the Thunder erased a 13-point deficit in the final four minutes for a 92-91 victory over the Mavericks on Monday night. The six-time All-Star and current NBA scoring leader, whom Cuban steadfastly claims isn't a superstar, had his third straight triple-double with 37 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. Westbrook scored 12 in a 14-0 run by Oklahoma City to finish it, but said he wasn't trying to convince Cuban, who was in the first row of seats just a few feet from the winning shot. ''Nah, man,'' said Westbrook, who has 37 triple-doubles and needs four in the final nine games to tie Oscar Robertson's NBA record set during the 1961-62 season. ''I play every night the same way. Whatever he says doesn't even matter to me. He's going to do his job, and I'm going to do mine.'' The Thunder gained possession on a replay reversal with 13 seconds to go and Westbrook hit the decisive shot from just beyond the free throw line over Wesley Matthews (6'5''-G-86, college: Marquette). Dallas was out of timeouts, and Harrison Barnes (6'8''-F-92, college: N.Carolina) missed a long 3-pointer before the buzzer. The Mavericks (31-42) last had a losing season in 1999-2000, Dirk Nowitzki (7'0''-F-78)'s second year. Cuban bought the team in January that season, when Dallas finished 40-42. ''It just happened so fast,'' said Nerlens Noel, who scored 15 points along with Matthews to lead Dallas. ''They were just playing more aggressive than we were late in the game.'' The Thunder (42-31) won for the seventh time in nine games since a four-game losing streak that matched a season high. They are a game behind the fifth-place Clippers in the Western Conference and 2 1/2 in front of Memphis for the No. 6 seed. Mavericks rookie Yogi Ferrell scored 11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter, capped by a 3-pointer for a 91-78 lead with 3:31 remaining. Dallas didn't score again. Westbrook started the stunning run with a breakaway dunk, followed by a 3. After Steven Adams (7'0''-C/F-93, college: Pittsburgh) tipped in Westbrook's missed 3, the star guard hit a floater on a three-point play to get the Thunder to 91-88. The Mavericks had possession with the shot clock off after Westbrook missed a jumper, but Dallas got stuck in the backcourt and called its final timeout. With just three seconds to get the ball past midcourt, an inbounds pass for J.J. Barea was tipped by Westbrook, who immediately signaled Oklahoma City ball even though the initial call went Dallas' way. There were plenty of celebrating Westbrook fans when he pulled up on a backpedaling Matthews. ''That's about as good a shot as you're going to get,'' Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said. ''You're trying to take away something at the rim.'' Courtesy of: yahoo.com
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