Seeing a fan rush the court at Quicken Loans Arena to tell LeBron James that he missed him sparked something inside Josh Raggi.
It wasn’t necessarily the night he got over the Decision. Raggi, 24, isn’t sure he really has.
But James Blair’s brazen act during a Cavs game against the Miami Heat on March 20, 2012, convinced Raggi, a former Walsh Jesuit High School pitcher and Kent State graduate, that he must take action to show James that not everyone in Northeast Ohio hates him.
Raggi and three partners — with Blair the newest member — will put their plan in motion Wednesday, when James and the Heat visit the Cavs for a 7:30 p.m. game televised on ESPN.
Their theme is “Come Home LeBron,” with a logo designed by an agency this summer. They have accounts on Twitter (@ComeHomeLebron) and Instagram (comehomelebron216) and a web site (ComeHomeLeBron.com).
Also participating is former Walsh Jesuit wide receiver Connor Mackovjak, like Raggi a commercial real estate broker. A University of Dayton graduate, Mackovjak is serving a military police deployment in Missouri. The fourth member wishes to remain silent.
“Last year when James Blair stormed the court, I was watching at home,” said Raggi, who grew up in Cuyahoga Falls but now lives in Cranberry Township, Pa. “My partner was at the game, sitting two rows in front of James Blair. We saw the fans’ reaction, overwhelming. We got to talking, ‘We might have something here.’ ”
Before the Cavs host the Heat, Raggi, Blair and supporters will pass out 2,000 bright green T-shirts at three tables outside the Q from 5:30 to 7:15 p.m. Those who take a picture wearing the shirt and tweet @ComeHomeLebron will be eligible to win 2014-15 Cavs season tickets.
But that’s just the start of their campaign, aimed at getting James to leave Miami for the Cavs in free agency in July. On Monday, a Come Home LeBron billboard will go up near James’ alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, for four or eight weeks. Another is slated for Interstate 71 at Pearl Road at the end of December for one week; it will return in mid-February and remain until the end of March.
The Cavs and two-time NBA champion Heat meet for three games this season, the last at the Q on March 18, when Raggi and his crew hope to distribute 10,000 T-shirts. Some will be passed out Dec. 14 at the opening of the renovated St. V-M gymnasium, funded by a $1 million donation from James.
“A lot of our focus is on the younger audience,” Raggi said. “We want the kids to have the same experience we did in high school, not only expecting to win, but expecting the Cavs to contend for a championship.”
The group does not want to make money but seeks a sponsor it can put on its T-shirts and billboards to help cover committed expenditures that have already reached $50,000. Bumper stickers are also being considered.
“Our main goal is not to beg him to come back,” Raggi said in an interview at a Northfield restaurant earlier this month. “Our main focus is to let LeBron know we’re going to accept him coming back. We’re not the group of haters.
“We realize LeBron had a point. He didn’t have the supporting cast here he needed to win. We have a young and vibrant team. We have the supporting cast. I believe that it’s 50-50 he leaves Miami. But if he leaves Miami, we think he’s coming to Cleveland.”
Raggi concedes he’s not the biggest LeBron fan in the world. That distinction goes to Blair, a 22-year-old physical therapy student at Kent State-Ashtabula who was arrested March 20 and received what he believes is a lifetime ban from all Quicken Loans properties, including concerts. He said he is appealing that decision on the one-year anniversary. (Blair’s parents came from Ashtabula to bail him out, but Browns offensive lineman Jason Pinkston, whom he befriended before the incident, paid his fines and court costs.)
Blair has more than 7,400 Twitter followers, which still include King James. Blair was featured in the LeBron issue of ESPN The Magazine. He attended Games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals and the Heat’s victory party, where James spotted him on the dance floor below and saluted. In an interview with Sports Illustrated about that night, James said, “Yeah, that’s James Blair, he’s my guy.”
But Raggi and Blair have a lot in common. Raggi has been a diehard LeBron fan since the seventh grade and grew up watching him sell out Rhodes Arena, when he played for St. V-M, and pack the Q for seven years. Blair said in a telephone interview that he first watched James in fifth grade, when he began playing organized sports.
Blair decided to join Raggi when he learned that Come Home LeBron wasn’t profiting off James’ impending free agency.
“A lot of people reached out to me about different things, people wanted to have a T-shirt sold,” Blair said. “I never wanted to make money off the situation. I told them no from the get-go. When I started talking with Josh, they had the same interest as me. They wanted to do this for the sole purpose of showing that fans still care and that we want you back.”
Both realize not everyone thinks that way. During Raggi’s interview, a group of women playing cards at the next table wanted to know what his T-shirt said.
“He can stay in Florida,” said one when she saw it.
“He’s got too big an ego to come back,” chimed in another.
Raggi isn’t doing this to heal from the Decision, which he thought was a publicity stunt for James to stay in Cleveland when he sat down to watch it.
Asked how long it took him to get over July 9, 2010, Raggi said: “Really over it? I thought it was ridiculous when a radio show in Cleveland had a bunch of witches come on and put a curse on him. I’m still bitter because I want those championships here. But now I realize why he did it. If LeBron were just an average player, we wouldn’t have felt obligated to keep him here. Him being arguably the best ever, that’s why this is such a big deal.
“I’m willing to get over it completely if he comes back. I’m sure we all are.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.