LeBron James may have taken his talents from Ohio to Miami a few years ago, but he will always be a Buckeye in some way.
Despite the fact that King James never actually attended Ohio State, he has very publicly become one of the faces of the Buckeye Nation fanbase. Recently, LeBron was seen prowling the sidelines at the football game versus Wisconsin, spoke to the team and fans at the pregame pep rally (deemed the Skull Session in Columbus) and even showed up court side to support the basketball Buckeyes in a showdown with Duke a couple of years ago
When most people think of James, they think of back-to-back championships, Olympic gold medals and overall greatness (unless you are Skip Bayless, then the dart board you have of LeBron’s face comes to mind). However, there are still plenty of Ohio sports fans that painfully remember “the decision” and its aftermath.
While the level of disdain has died down in the years since the decision, there is still some animosity left in the hearts of some Clevelanders when it comes to the King. Many of these same Cleveland sports fans are Buckeye supporters, students or alumni. That puts them in somewhat of an awkward situation when it comes to James’ involvement with the athletic department.
At that very same Skull Session this past week it was mostly cheers that greeted James when he took the microphone, but there were certainly some audible booing that occurred. Clearly, not everyone in Ohio is ready to accept the King back, Buckeye fan or not.
So what are the pros and cons of LeBron being such an ardent Buckeye supporter (if we are looking at this from an Ohio State fan’s point of view)?
First a quick cliff notes version of LeBron’s actual involvement with Ohio State is in order before delving into any pros and cons, because it’s not as if he is an official spokesman for the University.
He was born and raised in Ohio, actively cheers for the Buckeyes on television and on Twitter and even has a permanent locker in the new basketball facilities just erected on campus. He has been seen on the sidelines of multiple Ohio State football games, most of which are prime-time showdowns against elite competition.
It just so happens that there are many highly regarded basketball recruits on the sidelines for those games as well. It's almost as if Thad Matta set it up that way.
Frankly speaking, the pros of James being such a public Buckeye supporter certainly outweigh the cons from Ohio State’s point of view, primarily because of recruiting. Like it or not, recruiting is the lifeblood of sustained success at the collegiate level, and anything that helps Matta successfully do so is good for the program.
An obvious pro in this situation is merely having the greatest basketball player in the world right now associated with your program. James has explicitly said multiple times that he would have gone to Ohio State if he did play in college, and while LeBron may not quite be what Air Jordan was in the '90s in terms of “coolness,” he isn't that far off.
Having King James pulling for Ohio State makes it cool to be a Buckeye in the eyes of many people, most importantly high school recruits. Many of the best players to ever don scarlet and gray don't really resonate with younger people today (Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, etc.), so at least the Buckeyes have a current representative.
Just his mere shadow at the team facilities will monumentally help with recruiting. How many other premier basketball programs feature a LeBron James locker in a glistening new practice facility? It’s not hard to imagine that leaving an impression on some 17- and 18-year-old kids as they tour the locker room.
Furthermore, were James to ever utilize that locker room access and come train with the team during the offseason, there is no better way for the current Buckeyes to improve than playing with the NBA’s best player.
James’ involvement also helps with the football team, whether it is sharing his championship experiences with a squad that has national title aspirations of its own before an important game or telling the world (and every football playing high school prospect along with it) through national television how much he loves the Buckeyes.
The cons of LeBron being associated with Ohio State are mostly contrived at this point in the minds of those Cavs fans still smarting from what was seen as a betrayal. There is likely some level of inner turmoil as these diehard Cleveland supporters who are also Buckeyes wrestle with the fact James is involved even a little.
Honestly, though, the fact that LeBron got the school colors wrong when addressing the crowd pregame should be more offensive to any Ohio State fan than his playing in Miami. He mentioned that he always has his scarlet and red on everywhere he goes, but any Buckeye supporter worth his or her weight in chocolate and peanut butter would presumably know the colors are scarlet and gray.
It may seem silly from the outside, but traditions and school colors are sacred when it comes to big college fanbases.
Another con is the fact that it’s hard not to have what-if thoughts creep into one’s mind as a Buckeye. Just think if the one-and-done rule had been in place when LeBron was coming out of high school. Carmelo Anthony’s national championship run as a freshman at Syracuse was impressive, but one would have to assume James would have been even better.
The Schottenstein Center would have a couple more banners hanging from its rafters.
That being said, if James helps land even one 5-star stud prospect for either the basketball or football team, any lingering grudges from the decision will seem petty. Yes, he could have handled the way he left for Miami in a far better way, but it was ultimately a good career move and he still loves the Buckeyes, which is one of the defining characteristics of being an Ohioan.
If Matta (and Meyer) is good with James being around the program and recruiting targets, then you probably should be too.
Follow and interact with Ohio State basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.