LeBron James loves the New York Yankees — from head to toe.
The Cavaliers’ All-Star forward, who angered some Cleveland fans by wearing a Yankees baseball cap in the Indians’ home ballpark while cheering for New York during last year’s AL playoffs, has taken his devotion to the Bronx Bombers one step further.
James’ newest sneaker in his signature line with Nike is a tribute to his favorite hardball team: the Yankees.
Dominated by the team’s traditional blue-and-white color scheme, the Air Zoom LeBron V shoe features New York’s famed pinstripes as well as James’ No. 23, the number worn by popular Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly.
Also, under the tongue are the words: “Le-Bron Ja-Mes. Clap. Clap. Clap Clap Clap,” a nod to the cheer New York fans reserve for their beloved Yankees, and on the strap is the phrase: “Fresh for ’08. Suckers!”
Nike spokesman Kejuan Wilkins said the Yankees-themed shoe will be released in March. Initial plans are for it to be sold only in New York.
This isn’t the first Big Apple-inspired shoe developed for the 23-year-old Akron native, who signed a seven-year, $90 million deal with Nike before he graduated from high school. Last year, the world’s leading supplier of sports shoes and apparel released a LeBron James shoe with New York-style graffiti on it.
“LeBron has a great appreciation for New York City itself,” Wilkins said, “and this is just another tie.”
Nike was keeping the new shoe a secret, but photos taken in Hong Kong were leaked to an Internet site last week.
Wilkins did not know if James will wear the Yankees shoes in a game. The Cavaliers visit the New York Knicks on March 5.
In October, James drew the ire of many Clevelanders when he sat behind home plate boldly sporting a New York cap to Game 1 of the division series between the Yankees and Indians. It wasn’t just that James wore enemy colors, but he flaunted the despised interlocking “NY” logo by raising it high over his head, a gesture some took as a slight to the hometown Indians.
In the days following the game, James was blistered on sports talk radio by callers who couldn’t understand why he would be so brash.
James has been loyal to the Yankees since he was a kid. He’s also a big Dallas Cowboys fan.
His latest fashion statement has sparked new debate over James’ allegiances.
“As a fan of Cleveland and of the Cavaliers, I’m wondering, why not a LeBron Cleveland Indians shoe?” Lloyd Boyd of Cleveland said after shopping for new sneakers at a suburban sporting goods store with his wife, Juanita. “He can do what he wants, but he is from Akron, not the Bronx.
“On the other hand, he’s a businessman and he wants to market himself and sell more shoes.”
Juanita’s take was more forgiving.
“He’s already marketing himself by playing for Cleveland,” she said. “I don’t care what kind of shoes he wears as long as he’s with the Cavaliers and they’re winning games, that’s all that matters.”
James’ fondness for the Yankees could lead to a backlash in Cleveland, where fans have been waiting since 1964 to celebrate a major professional sports championship.
“He runs the risk of rubbing some of his core fans the wrong way,” said Paul Swangard, director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. “But you can’t make everyone happy.”
Swangard, who consults athletes on marketing strategies, doesn’t feel James has done anything to compromise himself.
“You have to be true to who you are,” Swangard said. “If he’s not a die-hard Cleveland Indians fan, then don’t pretend to be someone you’re not or you risk losing all your credibility.”