CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James has extended an olive branch to his Ohio hometown in the form of a full-page newspaper ad, days before making his first public appearance in Akron since leaving for the Miami Heat.
“Akron is my home, and the central focus of my life,” James wrote in Tuesday’s Akron Beacon Journal. “It’s where I started, and it’s where I will always come back to.”
Conspicuously absent from the ad is any mention of Cleveland, home of the Cavaliers, the team that James famously dumped in a much-maligned ESPN television special last month. The ad features photographs of James at his annual charity bike-a-thon, where he hands out hundreds of bicycles and joins a mile-long ride through downtown Akron. Despite speculation that James might skip the event, he has said he plans to show up on Saturday.
The traditional eight-mile trek that follows the ride has been canceled this year.
“It was here where I first learned how to play basketball, and where I met the people who would become my lifelong friends and mentors,” James wrote in the ad. “Their guidance, encouragement and support will always be with me.”
The ad appeared two days after former Cavs player Zydrunas Ilgauskas took out a similar ad in The Plain Dealer to thank Cleveland fans for their support. A veteran who played backup to Shaquille O’Neal last season, Ilgauskas quickly followed his friend James to the Heat in July, in search of his first championship ring.
Emotions are still running high among Cleveland fans who felt betrayed by James, who was revered as “The King” in this city for years. After James fled to Miami to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert sent off a scathing letter to Cleveland fans vowing to win a title before James does.
In sporting goods stores, anti-James T-shirts have become popular, including one that says “We Are All Quitnesses.” That’s a bitter nod to a gigantic downtown mural — since taken down — that featured James with his arms outstretched after tossing powder into the air under the heading: “We Are All Witnesses.”
And last week, a baseball fan wearing a Miami Heat jersey with James’ name on it was escorted out of a Cleveland Indians game after he was pelted with beer and peanuts by angry spectators.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects spelling of ‘after’ in 6th paragraph.)