Although opinions on Miami Heat superstar and current United States Olympian LeBron James remain divided inside of his home state, there's at least one Ohioan who's not afraid to express his support for the former Cleveland Cavaliers forward. And his opinion might matter to a few people in the Buckeye State.
"I love LeBron James. A competitor, good person," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said. "You never hear about anything off the field with him."
Meyer's relationship with James dates back to the Akron, Ohio native's days as a two-sport athlete at St. Vincent-St. Mary high school. Then the wide receivers coach at Notre Dame, it was Meyer's job to offer a scholarship to the All-Ohio wideout.
The new Ohio State coach will never forget the reaction he received when he offered James the opportunity to go play for the Fighting Irish.
"'Thank you very much, I'll consider it,' and his coach started laughing," Meyer said, recalling James' response. "I didn't know what he was laughing at, so we went down and sat in a room and he said, 'Do you know who that is?' and I said, 'No' and he said, 'LeBron James' and I said, 'Who's LeBron James?' and he said, 'He'll be the next Michael Jordan' and I go, 'Come on.'"
The coach wasn't exactly far off from the truth. James forwent the college experience in order to head straight to the NBA, where the Cleveland Cavaliers selected him with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2003 draft.
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After spending seven seasons in Cleveland re-writing the team's record books, James controversially bolted for the Miami Heat, announcing his decision to leave the Cavaliers on a nationally televised broadcast. Having a history of his own of coaching polarizing athletes, Meyer appreciated the circumstances that the eight-time NBA All-Star overcame en route to winning his first NBA championship this past June. And he is now one of just three U.S. men's basketball players to have competed in three Olympics.
"After being around Tim (Tebow) and some of these other Percy Harvins and some of these high-profile guys, to see him handle a lot of that scrutiny, he handled it real well," Meyer said. "'Cause he was under the bullet now, this guy, LeBron, and he performed."
Although James appears to have been vindicated in his decision to forgo a potential career in football in favor of his current one, Meyer has little doubt in his mind what could have been had he chosen the gridiron over the hardwood.
"A first-round draft pick, a Hall of Famer," Meyer said. "Obviously he's a winner."
The stats are certainly there to backup Meyer's proclamation. In his sophomore year of high school, James caught 42 passes for 820 yards and seven touchdowns. A season later- the final of his high school football career- he caught 61 balls for 1,245 yards and 16 touchdowns. Meyer projected the 6-foot-8, 260-pound James to wind up as a tight end or defensive end at the college level.
But despite his failed recruitment of the now three-time NBA MVP, Meyer remains close with James. He even took his family down to Miami last winter to take in a Heat game and meet 'the one that got away.'
And as he did more than nine years ago inside of that St. Vincent-St. Mary's office, James managed to impress Meyer.
"I took my son down to meet him and he treated him great," Meyer said. "Very articulate guy too. Just very respectful. You know, I love him, when my son met him, I was proud to have my son meet him."