AKRON — There was a LeBron James love fest Friday evening at the University of Akron’s InfoCision Stadium, but the approximate 25,000 fans in attendance will look like a small gathering if the Cavaliers one day hold a championship parade.
“On the court, that’s what means the most to me,” James said in a media session prior to the “Welcome Home LeBron Celebration.” “It’s my drive. It’s my only drive.”
Clad in a black cap, black T-shirt, black shorts and black tennis shoes at a press conference that featured two-dozen cameras and more than three-dozen media members, James was friendly and polite throughout, repeatedly stressing his love and admiration for the children of his native Akron.
“This is where I’m from,” he said. “This is where I’ll be.”
James was so relaxed and comfortable that toward the end of the session, a reporter dropped his phone on the floor and the small forward stopped mid-sentence to inform him. Without missing a beat, James quickly added, “That’s a Samsung. It won’t break.”
James certainly hasn’t despite the venom spewed his way when he announced his decision to join the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010.
The 6-foot-8, 240-pounder — James has lost 10 pounds by eliminating carbohydrates — spent the first seven years of his pro career with the Cavs before joining the Heat, which made four straight NBA Finals appearances and won two titles in his four years with the organization.
Judging by the reaction of those in attendance Friday — some people came from out of state — most folks have forgiven James, who announced on July 11 he would sign with Cleveland.
The 12th-year pro wound up inking a two-year, $42 million deal that contains a player option after the first season, but the main reason for that was to give the Cavs some salary cap flexibility. The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement also expires in 2017, so the 29-year-old wants to be able to capitalize and sign a long-term maximum contract at that time.
“At the end of the day, I’m a businessman as well,” James said. “I know what’s going on in our league. I’m not going anywhere. I don’t have the energy to do it again.”
The 2003 St. Vincent-St. Mary High graduate loves the current makeup of the Cavs and recently met new head coach David Blatt briefly in New York, where James was filming a movie.
“He said, ‘You might be a better actor than a basketball player,’” James said of Blatt. “That made me get in the gym.”
One of the few current NBA players who has a great knowledge of the history of the game, James spoke highly of a number of players who are now his teammates.
“I love Kyrie’s game,” he said of two-time All-Star Kyrie Irving. “I think he can be one of the best point guards in our league.
“I love the chip on Dion’s shoulder,” he added of third-year shooting guard Dion Waiters. “Everyone views that as a negative. I look at it as a positive.”
James went on to praise fourth-year power forward Tristan Thompson and former Heat teammates Mike Miller and James Jones, who are now with the Cavs, but saved his biggest praise for center Anderson Varejao, the only current Cleveland player who played with the four-time league MVP in his first stint with the team.
“I don’t have to comment on Andy,” James said. “You give me nine Andys and I’ll be the 10th guy and I’ll be all right.”
James was also surprisingly candid when it came to Minnesota power forward Kevin Love, who is expected to be traded to the Cavs on Aug. 23.
“I’m not getting my hopes too high on it right now because I don’t know what could happen between now and the 23rd,” he said. “If at the 23rd mark he comes aboard and signs, I’ll be very excited.”
James spent a month with Love as members of the 2012 U.S. men’s gold-medal winning team and praised the power forward’s basketball IQ and overall game.
“He’s a great piece,” James said of Love.
The main piece, of course, is James, who hopes to have an even bigger party some June — maybe even June 2015 — after the Cavs win a title.
“My No. 1 goal is to win a championship here,” James said. “I think it will be the greatest achievement of my life on the court.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like him on Facebook and follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.