PDT Sports Writer
When LeBron James revealed to Sports Illustrated that he would be returning to Cleveland for the upcoming season, northeast Ohio rejoiced. Sportscasters cried on air, old fans dug through storage to dust off old jerseys and new fans waited on hold for hours to buy season tickets.
But while that corner of the state celebrated, it was just another Friday in southern Ohio. With no NBA teams within 200 miles of downtown Portsmouth, the area isn’t exactly a hotbed for professional basketball. When the Daily Times asked readers for their feelings on James’ return on Facebook, the mood was decidedly indifferent.
”nobody cares, really there is more things to worry about in life then lebron james going back to ohio” posted Facebook user Adam Hileman.
Kimberly Shope added: “I live in Sandusky now. Every Cleveland TV station here took off hrs of regular programming. I think we have better things to do and show support for.”
”Don’t care,” posted Heather Warnock. “There are many more critically important issues than what this over paid, over indulged athlete chooses to do.”
But while area sports fans may not have an interest in James’ basketball career, they share with him a deep-rooted love for the Ohio State athletics. Even when he spurned Cleveland for Miami in 2010, he still remained a fixture on the sidelines of Buckeye football and basketball games, including last season’s 31-24 football victory over Wisconsin.
James, who was recruited by former coach Jim O’Brien when he graduated from high school in 2003, has often said that he would have attended Ohio State if he had not entered the NBA Draft.
“I promise, I say this all the time — if I had one year of college, I would have ended up here,” James said to a crowded St. John Arena before last season’s Wisconsin game, according to Cleveland.com.
With James back in his home state, Columbus may be just as excited as its neighbors to the north. Football coach Urban Meyer welcome him home with a tweet, and basketball coach Thad Matta recently spoke about the advantages of having back.
“It’s one of the greatest things for the state of Ohio, because you have the greatest basketball player in the world in our state,” Matta said to Cleveland.com. “And all the people in Ohio that are going to get to watch him play more now, it’s a great thing for basketball here.”
With the best basketball player in the world in the Buckeyes’ back pocket, Ohio State booster and Lucasville resident William McKinley knows that James’ return can only be a good thing.
“I’m just thrilled to death he’s back. He’s very much an emotional lift. He’s quite a boost to our spirits,” McKinley said. “He’s such an icon, and his charisma…I mean if you were down there playing in front of LeBron James and Thad Matta, what would you do? You’d play your guts out.”
McKinley also believes that James could be a sounding board for Matta in the event the coach ever had a basketball question.
“(He) could always ask for advice. He could give you an opinion,” he said.
The best basketball player in the world is officially in the ear of Ohio State’s basketball coach. How do you feel about LeBron James now, Portsmouth?
Alex Hider can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter