By TOM WITHERS
, AP Sports Writer
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James can almost see from his backyard the latest billboard enticing him to sign as a free agent.
In response to other cities displaying signs hoping to land James, who can become a free agent this summer, a realtor in his hometown of Akron paid for a billboard with a message reminding the NBA star that he doesn’t have to go anywhere.
The sign reads: “LeBron, there’s no place like home. (hash)ThisIsHome.” The billboard includes a photo of two ruby red Nike sneakers, a reference to the shoes worn by Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.”
There have been similar billboards directed at James in Los Angeles and Portland, and a Pennsylvania company paid to have three signs posted in the Cleveland area in hopes of luring James to sign with the Philadelphia 76ers.
James hasn’t seen the newest billboard, but as he has stated previously, he’s grateful for the attention.
“It’s very flattering,” he said Friday following shootaround as the Cavs prepared to host the Phoenix Suns. “It’s very humbling. I know my hometown, so, I already know there’s no place like Akron, that’s for sure.”
A second billboard will go up later this month.
James has a $35.6 million option on his contract and is putting off any discussion of his impending free agency until Cleveland’s season concludes. The 33-year-old is attempting to make his eighth straight NBA Finals.
James is no stranger to public fawning. He’s been in the spotlight since he was a teenager, when colleges, shoe companies and other businesses competed for him. He said he’s always been able to block out any distractions by prioritizing his life.
“I’ve always been able to keep the main thing the main thing,” he said. I see pretty much everything. I have not seen that billboard just yet, but I will. I see and I hear pretty much everything, but I know what’s important. I know what keeps me focused. I know what the job is at hand and that’s just how I’ve always been. It’s been like that my whole life.
“I heard talks of me being able to go straight to the NBA and being the No. 1 pick after my junior year in high school. I heard that, but it didn’t affect me. There was talk of me leaving St. Vincent-St. Mary and going to Oak Hill. There could’ve been a billboard back then. But it was like, `No, I’m not doing that.’ I understand what’s important now. What’s important now is finishing the school year up and see what happens after the season.
“I’ve always been that way. When I was a kid, I’ve always just tackled the main thing at the present time and worried about the future when it’s upon me.”