WESTLAKE, OH —LeBron James autographed books for hundreds of fans. Next, they want his signature on a contract extension with the Cavaliers.
Ditching his trademark New York Yankees cap for a Cleveland Indians model featuring a smiling Chief Wahoo, James signed copies of his new book, “Shooting Stars” on Friday for fans, some of whom camped out overnight for a chance to meet the NBA superstar.
When James arrived at Borders Books, fans flooded the store’s aisles for a view of the reigning league MVP. A long line slithered past shelves of paper backs and best sellers as Clevelanders—and a few out-of-state fans—waited to have James personalize their books.
For a few die-hards, it was a chance to deliver a message to James, who can become a free agent next summer. The Cavaliers offered James a contract extension this summer, but the 24-year-old has not yet signed it, saying he wants to keep his options open for the future, a stance that has some Cleveland fans worried he’ll go to another team.
“Don’t leave us, man,” one fan said as James scrawled his name.
“I ain’t leaving,” James said, smiling.
James was in good spirits as he interacted with people who have closely followed his career since his high school days in Akron.
He was genuinely touched by the outpouring of support.
“It’s humbling for me,” James said. “I can’t ask for more than this.”
John Sadowey and his family made the four-hour drive from South Bend, Ind., just to see James.
“His hand is so huge,” said Surf Sadowey, who got a chance to shake hands with his idol.
The Sadoweys can’t bear the thought of James playing anywhere but Cleveland.
“He hope he stays around here for quite a while,” said John Sadowey, who took note of James’ choice of baseball caps. “It was refreshing to see.”
James will be leaving Cleveland next summer—for Hollywood.
He has agreed to star as himself in a major motion picture, “Fantasy Basketball Camp,” a comedy about a group of friends who go to Las Vegas to take part in James’ basketball camp. The project will be produced by Brian Grazer, who also made “A Beautiful Mind,” “Apollo 13” “The Da Vinci Code,” and “Friday Night Lights.”
“It’s going to be great, a lot of fun,” James said. “He (Grazer) has an unbelievable track record and we’re looking forward to working with him.”
The film is expected to be shot next summer after the NBA season.
James’ book, which follows his rise from hoops prodigy to All-Star, is co-authored by Buzz Bissinger, who wrote “Friday Night Lights,” regarded as one of the finest sports books ever published.
By mid-afternoon Friday, the store had given away almost all of the 600 wristbands to see James, who has been on a worldwide promotional tour for the book as well as the documentary, “More Than a Game.”
As they waited for James, fans sat on the sun-baked sidewalk and talked about his approaching free agency; the addition of All-Star center Shaquille O’Neal to the Cavaliers’ roster; and whether next season may be the one when a Cleveland team finally ends the city’s championship drought.
Like most Clevelanders, Scott Nagy, sporting one of James’ No. 23 jerseys, is hoping the reigning NBA MVP will stay with the Cavaliers for years.
“His mom was on TV the other day and said he wasn’t leaving,” Nagy said. “They say he listens to his mom. Hopefully with Shaq here he won’t want to leave.”
Cleveland fans are used to having their hearts broken, which is why some believe James is as good as gone.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he left,” said Nichole Straubhaar, wearing a gray hooded “WITNESS” sweatshirt. “That would be so Cleveland. Just when something good starts to happen, something bad usually pops up. I want to believe that he’ll stay, but seeing him go would be fitting around here.”
James’ popularity has never been greater. He’s an A-list celebrity on a worldwide scale. But it all began in Ohio, where sports stars have always been given a unique reverence.
Browns quarterback Brady Quinn grew up a Cleveland sports fan and can relate to the passion directed at James.
“It’s almost a religion,” Quinn said. “I think people appreciate not only the entertainment of it, but everything else he has put into it. LeBron has worked incredibly hard to get to where he’s at. It’s not just that he’s just an incredibly gifted athlete, but he has worked to perfect his craft and people see that, which is why they’re so crazy about him.”
They’re crazy about Quinn, too, though not yet at James’ level. When it’s time for James to decide on his future, that fan loyalty might be something he strongly considers before making a move.
“I hope so,” Quinn said. “He has created a legacy here, and it has started with those fans, all the support they have given him.”
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