Jun 23, 2016 11:47 PM
Just a kid from Akron, LeBron James honored in hometown
The Associated Press
AKRON, Ohio (AP) His voice hoarse from days of nearly nonstop celebrating, LeBron James waited until the end of yet another party to remind a crowd filled with family, friends and fans why they came.
"It was 50 years plus that the Cleveland drought was going on," James said. "The last championship was 50-some years ago. Guess what? It took a kid from Akron to end it."
With that, James left the stage with fireworks lighting the sky and headed home.
For many, he's never left.
With more than 25,000 packing a small downtown area, James was celebrated as a hometown hero on Thursday night in Akron, where a section of Main Street has been renamed "LeBron James Way."
This was a much more intimate and sentimental gathering than on Wednesday when nearly 1 million people jammed Cleveland's city streets, turning a parade fit for a king into a lovefest spanning generations to celebrate the Cavaliers winning the NBA title and ending the city's championship drought stretching to 1964.
As was the case in Cleveland, spectators stood on rooftops, inside parking garages, anywhere possible to see and cheer James, who acknowledged as many as he could during his brief remarks.
Cleveland is where he works. Akron is so much more.
"You guys are part of the reason I can sit up here and be a world champion and I could bring a championship back to where it's supposed to be," James said. "It's supposed to be right here."
Following Wednesday's rally, James left the stage cradling the Larry O'Brien trophy and took it to his mansion for a sleepover so he would be able to show it off in Akron.
Kids enrolled in the LeBron James Family Foundation's mentorship program ringed the stage under James and he thanked them for providing him with daily inspiration.
As she stood near the back with her 12-year-old son, Grant, Jill Renee Hill of Medina marveled at James' devotion to the place he knows best.
"No matter what he does, he remembers where he came from, and northeast Ohio needs someone like that," she said. "He shows young kids with perseverance and motivation they can do anything. He's amazing."
Before James spoke, two of his former coaches at St. Vincent-St. Mary High school, where he blossomed from a skinny freshman into the nation's top player and a No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, talked about his commitment, tenacity and work ethic.
"That determination he showed in the finals started here in Akron," Dru Joyce said. "He dug down. You young people, you need to learn a great lesson from what he did."
Keith Dambrot, now the coach at Akron, promised the crowd this wouldn't be the last title celebration.
"We're going to have about six more of these," he said. "Anyone can stay in Miami, but how many can come to Akron and Cleveland and win a championship."
As the Goodyear Blimp hovered above the event, a 60-foot-long banner showing James holding the Larry O'Brien trophy was unveiled on the side of Civic Theater with the words: "I'm home."
This is his heart, where it all began. It's where he and his mother, Gloria, moved from apartment to apartment trying to make a better life. And it's where he returned after four years in Miami to raise his own children.
"Akron is home, y'all know that," he said. "I love each and every one of you."