|James' hometown celebrates his storybook rise to fame|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 08 June 2007 13:28|
AKRON, Ohio (AP) -After the thunder and lightning subside, the children emerge from their homes on this humid Friday afternoon to ride bikes and dribble a worn-out basketball on the rain-soaked alley.|
The forsaken street is one that most locals have probably never been down, yet from it LeBron James has risen to basketball's grandest stage.
While James' trip to the NBA finals with the Cavaliers has brought joy to the city of Cleveland, he's also given a jolt to his hometown just 40 minutes away.
Before ``The Chosen One'' rose to fame as a high school prodigy, Akron was known as a rust belt capital of the rubber manufacturing industry and home of the All-American Soap Box Derby.
Now, there's more to feel good about.
``There's a sense of pride,'' says 64-year-old Wanda Reaves. ``He's from the neighborhood. He knows everybody. He hasn't forgotten anybody.''
Posters of James fill the front windows and living room of Reaves' mint green house on Overlook Place, a dead-end street that intersects with Hickory Street, where James lived with his mother Gloria as a toddler.
One winter, when the James house had no heat, Reaves took them in.
``He and his mother slept on the sofa for three to four months,'' she says. ``I feel like he's my grandchild.''
Reaves shows a Mother's Day card from James that sits framed in her living room. She proudly opens an album with photos of his last visit to her home a few years ago.
``He's just LeBron. He doesn't put on airs,'' she says.
A crooked mile away from Hickory Street at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, James' retired No. 23 jersey hangs in the gymnasium along with three green and gold boys state basketball championship banners.
It was there where he redefined what it means to be a high school star, with games televised nationally. Across the street from the school, a ``Good Luck LeBron'' banner hangs on a building, placed there by his class of 2003.
``He's put Akron on the map. His presence has revived an area,'' says St. Vincent-St. Mary basketball coach Dru Joyce II. ``We're real excited for all the things he continues to do. He stayed home and he's given back. It means a lot to all of us.''
The 22-year-old James has paid for improvements to basketball courts at the community centers where he used to play. He's also hosted bike-a-thons to benefit local groups like the Akron Area YMCA and the Akron Urban League.
``He cares about northeast Ohio,'' says Joyce, who first coached James when he was 11. ``This is his home. He wants to see it grow and prosper.''
University of Akron coach Keith Dambrot, who coached James his freshman and sophomore years at St. Vincent-St. Mary, says the community's love for James has only grown with his prominence.
``You've got 90-year-old women who don't know anything about basketball, who love LeBron James,'' Dambrot says. ``The phenomenon is bigger than it's ever been and it was big in high school.''
His all-American rags to riches story is still tough to fathom.
``It's hard to believe this little kid that was in my house is now a millionaire and people around the world know him,'' says Reaves, who lives next to a house where broken glass litters the porch and a demolition notice is posted on the door.
The whole street watched with disappointment Thursday night as James struggled and the Cavaliers lost to the Spurs in Game 1 of the NBA finals.
With calm assurance, they say that won't continue.
``'Bron is like a little kid when he doesn't have his way. You know he'll come back,'' says Lakeeta Calhoun from her front porch on Overlook Place.
Just down the street, 7-year-old Daveon Garcia shoots at a rim not far from where James and other neighborhood children used to shoot baskets at a milk crate nailed to a utility pole.
``I wish I was him,'' Daveon says. ``He's the best.''
The storm clears for only a short time. When it returns, even fiercer, the children return to their homes, where they'll dream the same basketball dreams James once had.
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