AKRON, Ohio – The question this week isn’t how fans here will respond to Tiger Woods. The question is how they will react to hometown star LeBron James.
James and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will compete for local attention on Saturday. Weeks after breaking the area’s hearts and jumping from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat, James will conduct his Fifth Annual LeBron’s State Farm King for Kids Bikeathon here on Saturday.
There’s another link between James and the tournament at Firestone Country Club: Proceeds from both events will benefit a couple of the same charities – the Akron Urban League and the Akron YMCA.
James has provided more than 1,600 bicycles from the James Foundation since it was created in 2005 and another 400 will be distributed this year.
How he is received is anyone’s guess. For certain, he tried to head off any animosity by taking out a full-page advertisement Tuesday on the back page of the Akron Beacon Journal’s main news section, thanking the city for its support. He did not do the same in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.
Flanked on top and bottom by large photos of his bikeathon fund-raiser, he wrote this letter:
To My Family, Friends and Fans in Akron:
For all of my life, I have lived in Akron – and for that, I am truly a lucky man.
It was here where I first learned how to play basketball, and where I met the people who would become my lifelone friends and mentors. Their guidance, encouragement and support will always be with me.
Akron is my home, and the central focus of my life. It’s where I started, and it’s where I will always come back to.
You can be sure that I will continue to do everything I can for this city, which is so important to my family and me. Thank you for your love and support. You mean everything to me.
I happened to have dinner at an Italian restaurant about a mile from James’ large home in the Akron area. Based on a conversation with the owner and a couple of others in the eatery, people here are still a bit angry at James. The people I listened to in general spewed that James has done wrong by the area by, among other things, having an hour TV special announcing he’s leaving. They also panned his open letter, saying it seemed as if it were written by a fifth grader.
Welcome back, LeBron. And good luck. You might need it . . . and some earplugs.