It took him longer than some would have wanted, but while making his first public appearance since leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James finally thanked Cleveland for the memories. At his annual “King for Kids” charity bike-a-thon in Akron, Ohio, James addressed a large cheering crowd and finally uttered the words that Cleveland residents had been waiting to hear ever since James bolted to the Miami Heat this summer.
“To the city of Cleveland, my fans in Cleveland, my fans in northeast Ohio,” said James, “I want to say thank you for the last seven years and the years that continue to go in the future…So I want to thank the city of Cleveland, also northeast Ohio, for all the great years that I’ve had.”
Last week James made headlines for taking out a full-page newspaper advertisement in the Akron Beacon Journal in which he thanked the city of Akron for their support, but made no mention of Cleveland. The hometown hero played in Cleveland for the first seven seasons of his career, though he and the city parted ways on not-so-good terms.
Many fans said they felt betrayed by James’ decision. On the night he made his announcement, news cameras caught images of his jersey being burned in the streets. Later, billboards and large ad campaigns were taken out in Cleveland to further disparage and criticize James.
When James originally made his decision, Cavaliers owner, Dan Gilbert published a full-page letter to the fans on the Cavaliers’ website chastising James, calling his desire into question and guaranteeing that his team would win a championship before James’ Heat.
It appears, in Akron at least, that James’ decision was nowhere near as controversial as it was elsewhere. Judging by the reception he got, and the large crowd that showed up, the Akron-native is still beloved by his people. After giving his speech, James got on a bicycle and joined about 400 kids who received free bicycles on a one-mile course.
Later, James embraced the mayor of Akron on the podium, and gave the public a few words on how he felt about his hometown and why he was grateful to be there.
“Because I’m able to give back to the city that I grew up in, the city that I love,” James said to cheers. “And the city that I will always give back to.”