BEREA, Ohio -- There was a king on the sideline at Cleveland Browns practice Thursday.
LeBron James made his first (semi-)public appearance in the Cleveland area since he announced he was coming home to play for the Cavaliers. He, his two sons -- LeBron Jr. and Bryce -- and some friends, including former teammates at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, attended the closed practice and watched the final two-thirds from the side.
Afterward, there were the usual greetings and photos, with coach Mike Pettine saying he gets a father-of-the-year nomination because James agreed to take a photo with the coach's daughter Megan. Special-teams coach Chris Tabor also got a photo with his daughter Paityn and called it a "neat deal" to have James, whom he called "very humble," especially for his achievements.
James strolled into the locker room after practice, saying "I'll see y'all tomorrow" as he walked -- a reference to Friday's welcome-home party at the University of Akron's football stadium, a short drive from his present and childhood homes. He greeted players inside, then spent time chatting with Johnny Manziel on the field.
Whitner acknowledged that there was a buzz and plenty of chatter when James arrived, calling it a natural reaction.
"When you have one of the biggest athletes in the world at your practice, there has to be a lot of buzz," he said. "A lot of guys had never met LeBron before. It's exciting. I think it's pretty cool."
Pettine said James "had reached out" about visiting the team and that "it was something we had been looking forward to."
"I do know that I'm going to be father of the year now," Pettine said. "My daughter got a picture with LeBron. She could care less about a picture with me."
Pettine now has met Jim Brown and James in the same week. "That's two things off the bucket list," he said.
Said Tabor: "I saw him, and I said, 'Wow, that's LeBron James.' That's as neat as it gets. It really is."
James, who was an all-state wide receiver in high school, is a big fan of the game.
"He just asked how camp was going," Pettine said. "You could tell he's into it and loves football. He said he'll be at the games when it's warm and when it's cold he'll be watching from his basement."