BEREA — The best basketball player on the planet was the marquee attraction at Browns training camp.
Cavaliers superstar LeBron James and his sons LeBron Jr. and Bryce attended practice Thursday morning, much to the delight of Cleveland’s players and coaches.
The four-time NBA MVP spent an hour standing on the field — chatting with Browns coach Mike Pettine and his staff — in one of his first public appearances since re-signing with the Cavaliers last month.
“You can tell LeBron is into it, he loves football and he’s a big Browns fan,” Pettine said. “We’ve been looking forward to having him here, but he’s been out of town until now, so I’m glad this worked out for everyone.
“I also know that I’m going to be father of the year because my daughter (Megan) got a picture with LeBron. She could care less about taking a picture with me.”
James declined to speak with the media as he walked into the Browns’ executive offices, holding hands with his sons. “The Chosen One” will hold a news conference today as part of his homecoming celebration at the University of Akron.
“I’ll see you all tomorrow,” James said. “Thanks, guys.”
Though practice was closed to the public, several hundred guests were in attendance as part of a women’s football clinic sponsored by the Browns and USA Football. Celebrity chef Michael Symon also was on hand and exchanged pleasantries with James.
Browns general manager Ray Farmer presented each member of the family with personalized No. 23 “James” jerseys, while Dee Haslam — the wife of team owner Jimmy Haslam III — made a point of introducing herself to the trio.
“LeBron is an icon, no matter what,” wide receiver Travis Benjamin said. “Just seeing the guy and being in the same place, knowing that he actually came to the job you’re at, it gives you that extra push and that extra motivation to compete.”
The 29-year-old James also made a point of chatting with rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel, who is a friend and a client of the LRMR Marketing firm James founded. Both players currently have the best-selling jerseys in their leagues.
“It’s pretty cool, all eyes should be on Cleveland this year,” safety Donte Whitner said. “LeBron is from Northeast Ohio, we got Johnny here. It’s a lot of excitement, man, and I think we pretty much deserve it.
“Hopefully, we can go out there and put some wins on the board, the Cavs will put some wins on the board, the Indians will put some wins on the board — and we’ll have a happy time.”
Though James was an All-Ohio wide receiver at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High, he stopped playing the sport after his junior season. However, the 6-foot-8, 240-pounder still insists he is a football player at heart.
During his first stint with the Cavaliers, James openly rooted for the Cowboys and stood on their sideline when they played at Cleveland Browns Stadium in 2008. He made amends by playing for the Browns in a dream sequence as part of a Nike television commercial the next year.
“He would be a heck of a red-zone target,” Pettine mused. “Let’s just flex him out a little bit and throw one up for him. That would be very enticing.
“You get used to the NBA games where size is relative, but until you actually see him among civilians, you don’t realize how tall he is.”
While James was too busy to run routes for quarterbacks Brian Hoyer or Manziel, he did throw a 40-yard pass into the end zone, much to the delight of the Browns players who were glued to his every move.
Many of them vowed to be regulars at Quicken Loans Arena this winter, when “King James” formally returns to claim his court.
“I went to two Cavaliers games last season and had a great time,” guard Garrett Gilkey said. “Tickets might be pretty hard to come by this year, but I’ll do my best to keep supporting them.”
Rookie running back Terrance West agreed, saying, “I’m a LeBron fan. I always have been. Wherever he goes, I’m behind him. So now, I’m a Cavs fan.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.