Of course, that play was made for the Cleveland Cavilers who notched a 107-98 win in an exhibition game against the Chicago Bulls in Columbus Monday, a potential Eastern Conference Finals preview. But that won’t stop Ohio State fans from thinking about what it would have been like to see LeBron do that in the Scarlet and Gray.
James, for his part, enjoyed playing in front of a college crowd.
“The excitement was there from the time we walked in the building,” he said. “We had a lot of college kids here at the game. It just shows how much they support us and the least we can do is put on a show for them.”
“It’s great to be here and great to have these fans.”
It’s been more than 11 years since James, an Akron native, chose to forgo college basketball and enter the NBA draft, and that decision seemed predetermined years before that. James has been the best basketball player on the planet for a while now, but given his well known affinity for his home-state school it’s fun for fans to imagine what it would have been like for LeBron to don the scarlet and gray.
While it’s far too late for that to happen, the Cleveland forward can still help out Ohio State. Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta has repeatedly acknowledged that James’ return to Cleveland after a four-year stint in Miami was good not only for his program, but for basketball around the state of Ohio.
“You look at him and all the Cavaliers games that kids are going to get to see, the television exposure that Ohio is going to get with the Cavilers, I just think a tremendous thing,” the coach said at Ohio State media day Oct. 2. “You’ve got maybe the best player of all time two hours from our campus, he’s in the state. It’s huge for Ohio.”
LeBron was even closer than that Monday, suiting up in the wine and gold in front of a sold out crowd on the Buckeyes home court. He finished with 18 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Kyrie Irving led the Cavs with 28 points while Chicago’s Derrick Rose topped all scorers with 30.
James had played at Value City Arena before, suiting up in the Cavs preseason game against the Celtics on Oct. 21, 2009, his most recent season in Cleveland. He put up 18 points in that game as well, a 96-82 Celtics win. Back then, however, LeBron didn’t have his own locker in Columbus.
The Buckeyes unveiled a locker for LeBron last season, using it to display the forward’s apparel and make it obvious to recruits that he was a friend of the program. Ohio State has been wearing his Nike brand since their 2007 run to the national championship game.
“You want a guy like Lebron around as much as he possibly can (be),” Matta said Oct. 2. “He’s a legend. Any time these guys can be around him it’s great.”
When he got pulled from Monday’s game with 6:29 left in the fourth quarter LeBron got a standing ovation from the Columbus crowd, many of whom still envision him in Buckeye gear, and the star acknowledged the cheers on his way to the bench.