Ohio State Basketball: Will LeBron James' Return to Cleveland Impact Buckeyes?

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistJuly 15, 2014

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 29: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade of the NBA's Miami Heat look on from courtside seats during the game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Duke Blue Devils at Value City Arena on November 29, 2011 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

LeBron James may have bungled his “decision” four years ago when he elected to take his talents to South Beach, but the letter he dictated to Sports Illustrated describing what it would mean to return home to Ohio was very well orchestrated. 

It also struck a chord with those in the Buckeye State.

Clearly, James returning to the shores of Lake Erie will boost the Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBA title hopes (and box-office sales), but what kind of impact will it have on the sports in the rest of the state? In particular, what about the Ohio State basketball program and athletics department as a whole? 

Perhaps with that in mind, the basketball team was very quick to welcome James back to Ohio once the news of his return was official:

Mattaritaville, the official student section at homes games for the Buckeyes, also welcomed James back, and even Urban Meyer got in on the action:

Even when James was seen as public enemy No. 1 in the Ohio sports world, he was always a Buckeye. There is something to be said for that type of loyalty when the state's fans turned their backs on him. Sure, he never actually attended Ohio State, but he may as well have as far as the public perception is concerned.

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 28:  NBA player LeBron James watches from the sidelines as the Ohio State Buckeyes play the Wisconsin Badgers at Ohio Stadium on September 28, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

James stalked the sidelines at numerous prime-time football games under the lights in the Horseshoe, spoke to the fans at a pregame pep rally last season, showed up with his buddy Dwyane Wade to cheer Ohio State on against Duke a few years back and even has a locker in the new basketball facilities.

Then there was this comment he made at that pep rally, via Zack Meisel of Cleveland.com: “I promise, I say this all the time -- if I had one year of college, I would have ended up here. No matter where I go in the world, no matter where it is, I will always rock Ohio State colors.”

Buckeye fans can dream, can’t they?

Mark Duncan/Associated Press

James may have never donned an Ohio State jersey as a player at Value City Arena, but his association with the program makes that notion all the more appealing to some of the nation’s best high school prospects. The reality is that recruiting is the lifeblood of success at the college level, and it’s likely no accident that basketball head coach Thad Matta just so happens to have some of those prospects in Columbus when James is there for a football game.

Matta discussed James’ impact on the state as a whole, via Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com:

For me, it's one of the greatest things for the state of Ohio, because you have the greatest basketball player in the world in our state. And that helps young kids and that helps middle school kids and that helps high school kids that now want to be great players. And all the people in Ohio that are going to get to watch him play more now, it's a great thing for basketball here.

You can practically hear a sales pitch in there directed toward the state's up-and-coming basketball stars.

Busting out the old jerseys from Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek is one thing, but showing 17- and 18-year-old kids James’ locker in the practice facility or giving those prospects a chance to meet the King will likely have a much bigger impact on their mindsets.

What’s more, telling those same kids that they will get the opportunity to play in front of James at the college level if they choose the scarlet and gray will also resonate.

Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

New York is cool, Chicago is cool, Los Angeles is cool and, yes, Miami is cool. James has made a point of making sure Ohio stays cool as well. That’s important when we are talking about convincing high school students that Ohio State is the place for them.

James helped recruiting with the occasional appearance on the sidelines of football games or an offseason cameo at a practice session the past four years. Now that he is a mere two-hour drive north from Columbus instead of all the way down in South Beach, it is only natural to expect even more involvement.

Ohio State will always welcome him with open arms in the basketball and football departments. Anyone who has been to the Horseshoe for a night game knows the allure, and James will likely make the trip to see at least a couple of the football games this season. 

Chances are that Matta will make sure that the top recruits in the 2015 class and beyond see where the current king of basketball has decided to take his fandom.


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