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.
LeBron, Love power Cavaliers to 116-78 romp over Raptors - May 26, 2016
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Back home, the Cavaliers were not hospitable. They rudely roughed up the Raptors again. LeBron James (6'8''-SF-84) scored 23 points before sitting out the fourth quarter, Kevin Love (6'10''-PF-88, college: UCLA) scored 25, and Cleveland unleashed tenacious defense on Toronto to regain control of the Eastern Conference finals with a 116-78 rout of the Raptors in Game 5 on Wednesday night. On their court in front of 20,000-plus screaming fans following two straight losses in Canada, the Cav... [read more]
Back home, the Cavaliers were not hospitable. They rudely roughed up the Raptors again. LeBron James (6'8''-SF-84) scored 23 points before sitting out the fourth quarter, Kevin Love (6'10''-PF-88, college: UCLA) scored 25, and Cleveland unleashed tenacious defense on Toronto to regain control of the Eastern Conference finals with a 116-78 rout of the Raptors in Game 5 on Wednesday night. On their court in front of 20,000-plus screaming fans following two straight losses in Canada, the Cavaliers opened a 34-point lead in the first half and never slowed while taking a 3-2 series lead. They can clinch their second straight conference title and trip to the NBA Finals on Friday night in Toronto. 'We ought to be able to transfer that on Friday,' James said. 'Playing in that beast of an arena that we're going to, we've got to be composed, we've got to be tough and we've got to be sharp.' James had eight assists and six rebounds in 31 minutes before checking out late in the third quarter with the Cavaliers up 37. He spent the fourth quarter resting on the bench while Cleveland's reserves finished the romp. Kyrie Irving (6'3''-G-92, college: Duke), James and Love outscored the Raptors 43-34 in the first half. Cleveland has won its three games in the series by a combined 88 points. Demar DeRozan (6'7''-F/G-89, college: USC) scored 14 points and Kyle Lowry (6'0''-PG-86, college: Villanova) had 13 for the Raptors, who were overwhelmed from the start. Bismack Biyombo (6'9''-C-92) had just four rebounds after getting 40 the previous two games. The only positive for Toronto was center Jonas Valanciunas, who returned after missing eight straight games with a sprained right ankle. He scored nine points in 18 minutes. Love found his shooting touch after it went missing during the lost weekend in Toronto, where he went just five for 23. He finished eight for 10 from the field. Courtesy of: latimes.com
Thunder, in Rout, Push Warriors to Brink - May 25, 2016
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The Golden State Warriors came here with a well-earned reputation as cool and collected, the greatest basketball show on earth. The defending league champions and the most credentialed regular-season team in N.B.A. history, with 73 victories, the Warriors left Chesapeake Energy Arena late Tuesday night on the brink of elimination, battered in successive games by an Oklahoma City Thunder team that played like a tornado. With a convincing 118-94 Game 4 victory, the Thunder took a three-game... [read more]
The Golden State Warriors came here with a well-earned reputation as cool and collected, the greatest basketball show on earth. The defending league champions and the most credentialed regular-season team in N.B.A. history, with 73 victories, the Warriors left Chesapeake Energy Arena late Tuesday night on the brink of elimination, battered in successive games by an Oklahoma City Thunder team that played like a tornado. With a convincing 118-94 Game 4 victory, the Thunder took a three-games-to-one lead in the Western Conference finals, setting up a close-out game Thursday night in Oakland, Calif. Russell Westbrook (6'3''-PG-88, college: UCLA) played more like the league's most valuable player than Stephen Curry (6'3''-PG-88, college: Davidson), who won the award this season and last. Westbrook riddled the Warriors' defense for 36 points and 11 assists, with 11 rebounds for a triple-double. Kevin Durant (6'9''-SF-88, college: Texas) added 26 points and 11 rebounds for the Thunder. 'He just plays with incredible passion,' Thunder Coach Billy Donovan said of Westbrook. 'He's got such great force and great will, and he's also a really, really high basketball I.Q. player.' Westbrook said: 'I know that my energy and aggression can impact the game. My energy was good tonight. I was just using my size to get to the basket and create some havoc.' Curry endured a 6-for-20 shooting night, with six turnovers. Klay Thompson (6'7''-G-90, college: Washington St.) had 26 points to lead the Warriors, who finished with 21 turnovers. 'This is probably the longest team in the league that we're facing, and we are continuing to try to throw passes over the top of their outstretched arms,' Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said of the turnovers. 'It's probably not a great idea.' Most satisfying for the Thunder and their raucous fans was Draymond Green (6'7''-F-90, college: Michigan St.)'s continued poor play - he shot 1 for 7 and had six turnovers - after the N.B.A. did not suspend him for his kick of Steven Adams's groin in Game 3. 'The league is pro-business - he's one of the best players,' Durant said, suggesting the league was not going to meddle too much in its marquee series. 'We're not upset about it; that's just how it goes.' Given time to sleep on the N.B.A.'s decision to punish but not suspend him, Green insisted he would not become tentative or change the essential character of his game. 'I'm never going to be careful - I'm an emotional player,' he said before Game 4. He was not being defiant, or flippant, saying that the Warriors needed all the passion they could muster against a Thunder team brimming with talent and growing in confidence. Green at least was a man of his word. On the Thunder's first possession, Adams grabbed an offensive rebound, backed into the lane against Andrew Bogut and was hacked by Green, helping out from the weak side. But for all of Green's promises of a new night, a renewed aggression, it was Adams who had a far greater impact on a first half that looked strikingly familiar to the start to Sunday's Game 3. For the second straight game, Adams, switching out to defend Curry on the perimeter, deflected one of Curry's pull-up 3-pointers, a further demonstration of the agility of Adams, a 7-foot New Zealander. It also signaled a nightmarish half for Curry, who missed 10 of 14 shots, turned the ball over three times and added to the speculation that he is not entirely healthy. 'He's not injured,' Kerr said. 'He just had a lousy night. It happens, even to the best players in the world.' Curry said: 'It's a terrible night to have that happen. It's a terrible feeling not stepping up. But the series isn't over. There's a long way to go. Got to protect home court and try to figure out how to win in this building.' As they did in Game 3, the Thunder sprinted ahead early to a double-digit lead, forcing Kerr to call two timeouts on the way to a 22-8 deficit, the second of which came at the 5-minute-41-second mark and after three straight turnovers led to 8 Thunder points. The Thunder were far from the Durant and Westbrook show, with Serge Ibaka (6'10''-C/F-89) knocking down 6 of his 8 shots and scoring 15 points while Durant and Westbrook were combining for 36. Once again, the Thunder piled up a meaty advantage at the free-throw line, making 21 of 28 - Durant hit all eight of his attempts, and Adams converted 5 of 6 - while the Warriors made 9 of 17. Six of those attempts - and five of the misses - belonged to Festus Ezeli, a backup center getting extended minutes because Bogut had three fouls. Donovan - one win from the N.B.A. finals after making the jump from the college game - took advantage, intentionally putting Ezeli at the line three times just as the game really began to resemble Sunday night's. It was during the last six minutes of Game 3's second quarter that the Green-Adams episode ignited the Thunder on a run that provided a 72-47 halftime lead, a burst from which the Warriors never recovered. This time, the Thunder held a 48-40 lead when the first Ezeli foul occurred. He missed both shots, leading to an Andre Roberson (6'7''-F-91, college: Colorado) put-back basket off a missed Durant jumper. He scored again as Adams, with a no-look pass from inside the lane, found him at the rim for a layup. Flaunting his versatility and increasing influence, Adams hit Roberson again from the key area for another layup. The lead was 69-50 when Curry hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the half. But he left enough time on the clock for Westbrook to rise up from 30 feet and nailed a half-ending 3, giving his team 72 points again and a 19-point lead. It was not quite the 25-point hole the Warriors were in Sunday night, but it was still going to require a very different Warriors team in the second half. Unlike Game 3, in which the third-quarter deficit ballooned to 41, Game 4 featured a Warriors push back behind Thompson, with the team getting as close as 80-74 with 4:48 left in the third. But Curry could never put his imprint on the game as desperation led to another defeat and put that record 73-victory season on the brink. Courtesy of: nytimes.com
Kawhi, Draymond Lead NBA All-Defensive Teams - May 25, 2016
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Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (6'7''-F-91, college: San Diego St.) and Warriors forward Draymond Green (6'7''-F-90, college: Michigan St.) were the leading vote-getters for the NBA's All-Defensive teams for the 2015/16 season, with Leonard earning first-team votes from all 130 respondents. Leonard and Green were joined on the NBA All-Defensive first team by center DeAndre Jordan (6'11''-C-88, college: Texas A&M), along with guards Chris Paul (6'0''-PG-85, college: Wake Forest) and Avery Bra... [read more]
Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (6'7''-F-91, college: San Diego St.) and Warriors forward Draymond Green (6'7''-F-90, college: Michigan St.) were the leading vote-getters for the NBA's All-Defensive teams for the 2015/16 season, with Leonard earning first-team votes from all 130 respondents. Leonard and Green were joined on the NBA All-Defensive first team by center DeAndre Jordan (6'11''-C-88, college: Texas A&M), along with guards Chris Paul (6'0''-PG-85, college: Wake Forest) and Avery Bradley (6'2''-PG-90, college: Texas). Here's the complete breakdown of the 2015/16 NBA All-Defensive teams, with point totals in parentheses. Players received two points for a first-team vote and one point for a second-team vote.
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