AKRON, Ohio – Last weekend, LeBron James had to stand silently and watch his opponent spray champagne in a wild victory celebration.
Kickball tournaments, apparently, are serious business when a four-time NBA MVP shows up — wearing what looks to be a hat straight out of the Miami Heat’s on-court NBA championship celebration.
Organizers kept it under wraps, but they expected James to participate in the fourth annual charity kickball tournament at the Erie Island fields in Akron, not far from where James grew up. He did, adding a little sizzle to the event that benefits Akron’s Young Black Professionals Coalition and that group’s annual back to school drive.
In August, the money raised through donations at the event will help fund another event that will allow 1,000 Akron Public Schools students to get new backpacks and haircuts just before the 2013-14 school year begins. Steve King, who works with the YBPC, said the presence of James might not have brought in any extra money immediately but it did bring out more onlookers and help the organization and the event’s profile.
“LeBron always supports things we do in the community,” King said. “He likes to do it under the radar, at least as much he can do anything under the radar. If he can ever have anything resembling normalcy, it’s probably here in Akron.”
James played kickball with a group of lifelong friends from Akron, including three of his former teammates at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. His team was named “Return The Favor,” the name of the foundation driven by former University of Akron star Romeo Travis, who now plays overseas.
King said there were other teams, too, with players “who know LeBron, guys who grew up together, people who support him and appreciate all he’s done to support different things here.
“Him being around isn’t a big deal to a lot of us, but it brought people out. It created a buzz on social media, and a lot of the kids who were around at the tournament were in awe. LeBron is great with them, and there was some interaction without it being chaotic or anything like that. He’s at peace when he’s at home in Akron.”
There was anything but peace when Team Trill defeated James’ team in the tournament’s championship game. King said “cheap” champagne started flying in a celebration that’s already fueled friendly trash talking about next year’s tournament.
“It’s all for a good cause, but the kickball gets super competitive,” King said. “I don’t know if those guys wanted to win any worse because LeBron was on the other side, but I know he wanted to win, too.”