Northeast Ohio is the home to more than just a couple of great museums. There’s the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, the Great Lakes Science Center, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and many more.
LeBron James’ Home Court at House Three Thirty in Akron has joined that list.
If you have spent a single moment of your life being a fan of LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers or just the game of basketball, a trip to the newly opened museum in Summit County is a necessary experience.
Its doors opened to the public on Saturday morning to visitors from all over the country, and in some cases, the world. With the Los Angeles Lakers — James' current team — in town to take on the Cavaliers, visiting the museum and then going to Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse for the game was the perfect day for LeBron James fandom.
Joe Burwick and his daughter Grace were among those who traveled in from out of town to spend a day enjoying James’ greatness. The father-daughter duo calls Buffalo, New York, home but couldn’t resist making the trip to experience seeing James in person and learning more about his history.
Joe calls himself a “reformed Jordanite” who has become one of James’ biggest fans. That fandom has rubbed off on his 10-year-old daughter. The pair descended into Akron dressed in yellow Lakers gear but don’t consider themselves fans of the team.
“We’re not Lakers fans. We’re fans of LeBron,” Joe says. “We’ll follow him wherever he goes. I just looked at when this was opening, and I saw they were playing in Cleveland on Saturday night and I was like, ‘We have to go to the opening and go to the game.’”
It was an experience that they won’t soon forget.
“I think I liked the Toon Squad video,” says Grace when asked about her favorite parts of the museum. “They were interviewing each other about the Space Jam movie.”
After a day at the museum, the Burwicks made their way to Cleveland for the game. It was Grace’s second time seeing James in person, with the first coming this past January in Boston. It was a bucket list item for Joe, too. He had seen James play all across the country, but it was his first time watching him in Cleveland.
The day is certainly one that won’t be forgotten by father or daughter.
Inside, fans can find a plethora of memorabilia from James’ long and legendary career in the NBA. But that’s not where it starts or finishes.
Upon walking into the museum, a guest is given a key on a string, just like the one James used to carry in his childhood, to open up an apartment door with the number ‘602’ on it.
That door, with James’ childhood address on it, gives way to a replica of the apartment he grew up in, along with his mother, Gloria. That area of the museum featured a living room containing some of James’ favorite snacks and even the television the family grew up watching.
It also contained a replica of James’ childhood bedroom, complete with posters of sports heroes, CDs, sneakers and much more. These areas help to put the museum-goer into what the world might have looked like through James’ eyes back in the 1990s as he grew up. That part of the museum is so much about visualization. It’s as close as the world will ever get to seeing the origin of one of the greatest basketball players to ever walk the Earth before basketball was the main thing.
“The photos, the trophies are authentic,” says Michele Campell, the executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation. “Some of the posters are authentic, the TV, the computer that's the TV he watched, that’s the computer he did his homework on.”
Next, the journey replicated the time that James spent at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron where he became a household name as a teenager. The museum has created a version of what the basketball locker room looked like in the early 2000s that features not just a locker for James, but some of his teammates, too. Maverick Carter, who is one of James’ business partners, has a locker and so does Brandon Weems, the current assistant general manager of the Cavs. The lockers have jerseys, shorts, posters and more to check out.
Just outside the locker room is part of the court that the SVSM basketball team used to play on, as well as a banner commemorating James’ No. 23 and the three OHSAA state championships that were won. There’s also a trophy case with trophies and awards won by James in high school alongside one of the jerseys he wore.
This collection would make any museum great, and it’s all before reaching the NBA part of James’ story.
James has been a household name since the day he was featured on Sports Illustrated’s cover with the words “The Chosen One” overlayed across the front. That fame only continued to rise as he reached the NBA.
When he was the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, James donned an oversized all-white suit on the stage. That suit now sits in a frame in the museum next to a replica board of the draft order from that night’s first round.
Then you’re taken to his first stint with the Cavaliers.
A glass case sits next to a recreation of the locker James had at then-Gund Arena (and later Quicken Loans Arena). Inside the glass case, there are several pairs of James’ signature Nike shoes, newspapers, photos, a WWE belt and even an old Blackberry from that era. The locker itself has an XBOX 360 gaming console, a navy blue Cavs uniform set, grooming products, and eight more pairs of sneakers.
That’s all next to a wall filled with James’ accomplishments from the first seven years of his career and press clippings commemorating them.
That wall quickly changed to July 8, 2010, when James announced via ‘The Decision’ that he was taking his talents to South Beach and would join the Miami Heat. Just as his accomplishments were listed in Cleveland, his time in Miami was celebrated the same way. It was almost as if the two lockers were staring at each other. One locker symbolizes the journey to the NBA and the other the journey of becoming a champion.
There are artifacts from his time in Miami such as a jersey, a Beats by Dre speaker, a game-worn mask from when he suffered a facial injury and no fewer than 15 pairs of shoes.
A turn to the right will then have James back in Cleveland, with a display from one of James’ legendary Halloween parties. Truthfully, the museum wouldn’t be complete without the spooky drumset from the party to commemorate the death of Golden State’s three games to one lead in the 2016 NBA Finals.
Left of that features a wall of more than a dozen game-worn shoes by James with notecards attached to the display boxes informing the viewer of when they were worn and what James accomplished in them.
Of course, James’ second Cleveland era wouldn’t be complete with explaining how it started. On the wall across from his fourth of six lockers is a blown-up copy of the story James told to Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated announcing that he was returning to Cleveland.
To the right, there is a locker commemorating James’ time with USA Basketball, where he won a pair of gold medals in the Olympics.
Lastly, there is a locker filled with mementos from his six years and counting with the Los Angeles Lakers.
James' career is about more than just basketball. That's captured in the next room. There are four television screens displaying some of the media James has either been in or had a hand in helping to produce. There's also an office area with a throne fit for a king behind the desk. The wall in the room is covered in articles about James and photos of he and his family. There are a few awards he has won from off-the-floor endeavors in there as well.
How It Came Together
This museum is incredibly impressive not only in how many details of James’ life are covered so perfectly, but how much memorabilia is inside of it.
“I used to get on my mom a lot about saving everything,” says James after the Lakers game in Cleveland. “And she kind of threw it back in my face when the stuff was being prepared because a lot of the stuff in there was stuff that she saved. And that’s pretty cool. It’s pretty awesome to see.”
This process of building this museum took roughly 18 months, not counting all of the time throughout James’ life that things were kept. But there were certain things throughout the curation process that hadn’t been at the front of his mind.
“My mom had trophies from when I was like, my first basketball game or my first football game ever. She got trophies from when I won MVP when I was like 9 years old. That’s pretty cool. I hadn’t seen it in years. I didn’t even know that she still had it.”
What It Means
This museum is something that James, his foundation and the city of Akron should be incredibly proud of. People from all over the world flocked to Akron in late November to pay homage to what James’ career was and continues to be.
“I think this is pretty cool that I've been able to do some things in my life to be able to bring back to my community, continue to highlight my community and in my community, a place where people want to visit and want to be proud of. I am,” James says. “I’m definitely proud of the fact that my foundation has been able to do some great things and this is one that we can all be proud of, for sure.”
After playing in Cleveland on Saturday night, James and the Lakers made the trip to Akron on Sunday to check out the newly opened museum.
“It was pretty awesome. You know for me, I wanted LeBron and his mom to have a moment you know when they went in there to SpringHill just because it's so authentic,” Campbell says.
The museum does authenticity incredibly well and captures the essence of James perfectly. Any time spent checking it out is time well spent.
LeBron James' Home Court is open Monday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and costs $23 for admission.
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