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.
James, Cavs snap 3-game skid with 116-112 win over Raptors - 10 hours ago
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The Cleveland Cavaliers lost J.R. Smith to a left knee injury early in the game, though LeBron James wouldn't allow his team to let up on the Toronto Raptors one bit. James scored a season-high 34 points as the Cavaliers broke a three-game losing streak with a 116-112 victory on Monday night. It was their third straight victory this season over the Raptors, the team they beat on their way to the championship in last year's Eastern Conference finals. "Next man up," he said. "It's always be... [read more]
The Cleveland Cavaliers lost J.R. Smith to a left knee injury early in the game, though LeBron James wouldn't allow his team to let up on the Toronto Raptors one bit. James scored a season-high 34 points as the Cavaliers broke a three-game losing streak with a 116-112 victory on Monday night. It was their third straight victory this season over the Raptors, the team they beat on their way to the championship in last year's Eastern Conference finals. "Next man up," he said. "It's always been our mindset; obviously we hope the MRI's come back positive with J.R.'s injury, so it's next man up and guys have to be able to fulfill that." Smith injured his left knee in the first quarter after landing on a jump shot and hobbled to the dressing room in considerable pain. He did not return, and the Cavaliers said X-rays taken at the arena were negative and that the guard would return to Cleveland on Tuesday for further examination. Coach Tyronn Lue said he was "not sure on what it is," with regards to the precise nature of Smith's knee injury. Kevin Love (6'10''-PF-88, college: UCLA) had 28 points and 14 rebounds for his team-leading 13th double-double of the season and his third straight against the Raptors. Kyrie Irving (6'3''-G-92, college: Duke) added 24 points, his career-high 10th straight game with at least 20. Canadian Tristan Thompson (6'9''-F-91, college: Texas) chipped in with a season high-equaling 14 rebounds. DeMar DeRozan (6'7''-F/G-89, college: USC) had 31 points and Kyle Lowry (6'0''-PG-86, college: Villanova) added 24 for Toronto, which had its six-game winning streak snapped. For Irving, winning the season series, and gaining the tiebreaker, over Toronto is something to celebrate, particularly when it also ended the Cavs' skid. "We know we are going to get their best shot all the time," he said. "We compete at a high level against one another, so it's great to come here or them come to Cleveland. It always comes down to basically the last two or three minutes." Monday's game was no different. Cleveland seized control of the game in the third quarter with a 23-11 run, turning a one-point halftime edge into a 13-point lead on Love's sixth 3-pointer of the game with 3:35 to play in the quarter. The Cavs eventually took a 90-81 advantage into the fourth. A turnaround jump shot from DeRozan with 24 seconds remaining closed the gap to five, and he followed that up with a 3-pointer 10 seconds later that looked to put the result in doubt, but after review he was ruled out of bounds. Love then made a pair of free throws. "They know how to win," DeRozan said. "Throughout the whole game they understand when they have to turn it up on both ends, so with that you can't put yourself in a hole deeper than what you are already in, especially against this team. You know they are the champions." Courtesy of: usatoday.com
Thompson scores 60 as Warriors beat Pacers 142-106 - 10 hours ago
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Klay Thompson (6'7''-G-90, college: Washington St.) had 60 points, an NBA season high and the most by a Golden State player in more than 42 years, as the Warriors whipped the Indiana Pacers 142-106 on Monday night. Thompson scored 40 by halftime in just 18-plus minutes. He had a career-best 60 points through three quarters and called it a night, sitting down with 1:22 left in the period as fans jumped to their feet for an extended ovation. Thompson joined Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain,... [read more]
Klay Thompson (6'7''-G-90, college: Washington St.) had 60 points, an NBA season high and the most by a Golden State player in more than 42 years, as the Warriors whipped the Indiana Pacers 142-106 on Monday night. Thompson scored 40 by halftime in just 18-plus minutes. He had a career-best 60 points through three quarters and called it a night, sitting down with 1:22 left in the period as fans jumped to their feet for an extended ovation. Thompson joined Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry and Joe Fulks as the only Warriors to score 60 points in a game. Barry was the last to do so, going off for 64 on March 26, 1974, against Portland. Thompson shot 21 for 33 and 8 of 14 on 3-pointers - 15 of 22 with five 3s in the first two quarters - and converted 10 of 11 free throws in 29 minutes. Kevin Durant (6'9''-SF-88, college: Texas) added 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists for Golden State in another display of impressive passing. The Warriors' 15 first-quarter assists matched a club record and they wound up with 45 total - two off the franchise mark they set Nov. 24 against the Lakers. Courtesy of: ctvnews.ca
Westbrook's triple-double leads Thunder past Hawks, 102-99 - 10 hours ago
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At first, Russell Westbrook (6'3''-PG-88, college: UCLA) couldn't get the shots to fall. No problem. He crashed the boards and kept looking for his teammates. Then, he found his shooting touch. The result: another triple-double for the Oklahoma City star. Westbrook scored 32 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out 12 assists, extending his streak of triple-doubles to six games as the Thunder held off the Atlanta Hawks 102-99 on Monday night. It is the NBA's longest such run since Micha... [read more]
At first, Russell Westbrook (6'3''-PG-88, college: UCLA) couldn't get the shots to fall. No problem. He crashed the boards and kept looking for his teammates. Then, he found his shooting touch. The result: another triple-double for the Oklahoma City star. Westbrook scored 32 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out 12 assists, extending his streak of triple-doubles to six games as the Thunder held off the Atlanta Hawks 102-99 on Monday night. It is the NBA's longest such run since Michael Jordan had seven in a row in 1989. "I just read the game," Westbrook said. "The game will tell you what to do." Westbrook has sparked a six-game winning streak by the Thunder and reached double figures in all three categories in half of their 22 games. By contrast, Jordan had 15 triple-doubles for the entire 1988-89 season. "Obviously, the league hasn't seen something like this in a long, long time," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. Westbrook kept his streak alive with plenty of time to spare. He had 15 points and 11 rebounds when he picked up his 10th assist with 6:20 left in the third quarter. Scooping up a loose ball after a turnover by the Hawks, Westbrook led a 2-on-1 that ended with a pass to Victor Oladipo (6'4''-G-92, college: Indiana) for a layup that gave the Thunder a 69-59 lead. "My job is to find those guys," Westbrook said. He found his range in the third quarter after missing eight of his first nine shots. Westbrook knocked down five of seven, three of them beyond the arc, and finished with 16 points in the period as the Thunder stretched a one-point halftime lead to 83-69 heading to the fourth. Atlanta rallied down the stretch, but Westbrook closed it out for the Thunder. He finished with 27 second-half points to send the Hawks to their seventh straight loss and 10th defeat in the last 11 games. It's the longest losing streak for the Hawks since they dropped eight in a row in February 2014. Coach Mike Budenholzer decided to shake things up, sending Kyle Korver to the bench and putting Thabo Sefolosha in the starting lineup. The Hawks also were bolstered by the return of Paul Millsap (6'8''-F-85, college: Louisiana Tech), who had missed three straight games with a sore hip. He led five players in double figures with 24 points. It didn't matter. Westbrook made sure of that. "He can do so many different things," said Sefolosha, who was often matched on Westbrook. "It's definitely mind-blowing. And the way he does it. He's everywhere." Atlanta had a shot to send the game to overtime after Korver forced a jump ball. Westbrook and the Thunder clamped down defensively off the inbounds play, and Tim Hardaway Jr. (6'6''-G-92, college: Michigan) Jr.'s desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer failed to hit the rim. "Can't dwell on it," Hardaway said. "I've got to move on to the next play, the next game." Courtesy of: auburnpub.com
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