Film screening gives note of fame to Akron

Nick Baker

At the Akron Civic Theater, on a Friday night in late August, a film premier brought the press, a few stars and a red carpet to downtown Akron. In expected Ohio fashion, gray skies and stormy weather met them.

I had never stepped on a red carpet before, and this one squished under my feet.

Wet formal wear crowded the entrance. And in contrast to what I expected from a film premier, so did wet basketball jerseys and gym shorts.

Nike Basketball t-shirts were draped over the chair backs inside. The front of the t-shirt showed an image of the film’s poster. On the back, a list of cities stretched from top to bottom. It included places like Paris, London, Beijing, Shanghai and New York City. As I read the list of cities, I could not help but notice the third city: Akron.

And despite the dismal weather, depressing gray sky and what seemed like small ponds dotting the streets of downtown, people were beginning to jam into the theater entrance.

In the hallway that led to the theater lobby, members of the press bunched up on one side of a thin white rope with the red carpet opposite them. From behind one of these bunches came Chris Paul, all-star point guard for the New Orleans Hornets. Surprised to see him there, I approached and asked what he thought about being at an event like this in Akron.

“It’s cool,” he replied with an air of nonchalance. “I’ve been here before. I’m in and out of Akron all the time.”

I responded sharply, not as a journalist, but as a lifelong resident of Northeast Ohio, “For what?”

He pointed over his shoulder toward the entrance of the theater as he answered. “I come down here with him.”

At the entrance, a banner hung from the ceiling, which had to be at least two stories. On the banner was a black-and-white image of a young LeBron James, dressed in the home white-and-greens of the St. Vincent-St. Mary Fighting Irish.

At the base of the banner the elder real-life James towered over the press, his face lacking the boyish ferocity shown in the banner behind him in favor of the stoic composure of a professional businessman.

This film, and its top-billed star, brought out people from all walks of life. They came together as sports fans, LeBron James fans and Ohioans.

Before the film began, Akron mayor Donald Plusquellic spoke to the audience.

“We are here tonight to celebrate not only a film about basketball,” Plusquellic said. “Not only a film about LeBron James, but about five special young men who grew up here, formed a team here, and really put Akron on the map for people who follow sports.”

I remembered a time in Mexico when I tried to explain to a local where I lived. He did not know Ohio, and he did not know Cleveland (I’m actually from Youngstown, but he didn’t strike me as a fan of boxing or post-industrial American cities).

But when I said, “LeBron James,” he held his right arm up as if shooting a basketball and repeated the name to me with excitement.

I later asked James about the list of cities on the t-shirts.

“New York, baby,” James said at first with smug sarcasm, as if he expected me to ask about it. “That’s y’all favorite city, New York.”

I was almost embarrassed that it even came up.

Luckily Dru Joyce III changed the tone, and mentioned Akron.

“It’s the most important city on there,” Joyce said. “I was born and raised here, and last night (the premier) was awesome. It was a great moment. I’ll always remember it.”

As the film concluded, in classic sports-flick style, the futures of all those involved were mentioned. James was said to have found seasonal work in Cleveland before a clip of him hammering down a right-handed windmill jam over Kevin Garnett in Game Six of the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals was shown.

I knew immediately what game the clip was from, and as people in the theater exploded as if it had just happened in from of them, I realized most in attendance saw what I saw, and it wasn’t a basketball play.

Contact features reporter Nick Baker at [email protected]