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Oct. 6, 2014

The LeBron Effect : Will James’ presence on Cavs benefit CSU basketball?

By Kevin Alquist

When LeBron James announced his decision to return to Cleveland in July, it sparked a citywide buzz, not only for Cleveland Cavaliers fans but also for local businesses and attractions. The return of King James could mean up to $500 million for the local economy, LeRoy Brooks, a finance professor at John Carroll University, told TIME Magazine in July.

After four-straight losing seasons in the wake of “The Decision,” which saw James depart to the Miami Heat and win two NBA Championships in four years, Cavaliers fans are flocking downtown in hope of a championship of their own.

With basketball fever sweeping over Cleveland, what does James’ return mean for Cleveland State University basketball?

Trey Lewis, a junior guard for the Vikings and a Garfield Heights native, is excited to see his hometown back in the spotlight of the sports world and hopes to see some of the excitement roll over to the Wolstein Center for Cleveland State basketball.

“[With] LeBron [James] coming home, it generates Clevelanders being excited about their team sports,” Lewis said. “As far as Cleveland State, it brings fans downtown to our area — once we have the success that we’re going to have this year, and that we’ve been having, the fans are going to want to come out.”

Through Dec. 3, the men’s basketball team is 3-4 on the season and 2-1 at the Wolstein Center with an average home attendance of 1,470 people.

However, the women’s team has started the season with a 4-3 record, playing three games at home through Thursday, Dec. 4 and are 3-0 in their building with an average attendance of 290 people so far this season.

Despite good play from both teams at the Wolstein Center, there has not been a signicant change in attendence so far this season.

The possibility of James’ presence making Cleveland State a destination for players and fans still looms, but only time will tell what his impact will be in that regard.

Men’s head coach Gary Waters said both the return of James and the presence of current Heat point guard Norris Cole, a Cleveland State alumni, are important factors in keeping his team in the spotlight. He and his team understand the most important thing to do is to keep winning games.

“When you talk to [people] about Cleveland, you can always mention LeBron [James],” Waters said.
Lewis has his own theory on James’ presence in town and how it can affect Cleveland State.

“I like to call it the LeBron [James] factor,” Lewis said. “Wherever he goes, he generates excitement and a lot of people want to be around him. I know he follows college basketball—I’m pretty sure he’d love to be involved with Cleveland State and to come to a game.”

Lewis looks up to James’ ability to deal with the hometown criticism that he attracted by leaving the Cavaliers in 2010.

“There was a lot of negative talk about LeBron [James] but he stayed focused and had a lot of success,” Lewis said. “Coming back to Cleveland is like the perfect ending if he wins a championship here.”
Lewis said he was initially shocked by James’ return despite years of speculation in the media.

While James has not been in attendance for a game this year, he and the Cavs shot a secret promotional video for Nike at the Wolstein Center that aired on the day of the season opener.

But the fact remains that most players on both the men’s and women’s teams started their college careers at Cleveland State when LeBron largely a villain in Cleveland after taking his talents to South Beach.
According to women’s head coach Kate Peterson-Abiad, while her team is largely divided between James fans and Kobe Bryant fans, everyone seemed excited to have such an exciting basketball player in close proximity to their home court.

“I didn’t have just Cleveland, Ohio kids, so they’re just fans of his as a player, but if they were a fan of his when he returned they absolutely joined in the hype of welcoming him home because this has become their home,” Peterson-Abiad said.

If anything, Peterson-Abiad said, his presence in Cleveland gives her players a sense of place and the ability to relate to family and friends that may be curious about where they live.

“It sort of gives them an avenue to communicate with the people in their lives that don’t live here because they know about my city and they know what’s going on here,” she said. “Cleveland is looked at in a totally different light with LeBron here. They feel like Cleveland is up and coming and this is a hot spot now. Because LeBron is associated with basketball and we are asking people to come here in play basketball they identify this as a basketball city. Come and be a part of that.”