Miami Heat basketball plyaer LeBron James speaks to the crowd before the start of the LeBron James Family Foundation, King for Kids Bike-a-thon, in Akron, Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010.

*While Tiger Woods was en route to his career bottom in Akron on Saturday, hometown NBA star LeBron James was busy making his first public appearance in the city since leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat.

At his annual “King for Kids” charity bike-a-thon in downtown Akron, James addressed a friendly crowd of several hundred people who cheered as he took the podium, reports the Associated Press.

“To the city of Cleveland, my fans in Cleveland, my fans in northeast Ohio,” said James, “I want to say thank you for the last seven years and the years that continue to go in the future.”

Then he repeated the thank you to Cleveland a second time, apparently to make it absolutely clear.

“So I want to thank the city of Cleveland, also northeast Ohio, for all the great years that I’ve had,” he said.

Last week, James came under fire for taking out a full-page newspaper ad in the Akron Beacon Journal in which he thanked the city of Akron for its support. The ad contained no mention of Cleveland, where James got his start in the NBA.

Emotions are still running high among Cleveland fans who felt betrayed by James, who was revered in that city for years. After James left for Miami to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert sent off a scathing letter to Cleveland fans vowing to win a title before James does.

But in Akron, at least, James is still very much loved by the people who watched him grow up. After giving his brief speech — and without answering any questions from the media — James hopped on a bicycle and joined about 400 children who received free bicycles along the one-mile course.

 

James, top, "slimes" Nickelodeon Brain Surge game contestants Latroya Cox, of Akron, Ohio, left, Casey Miller, 14, of Akron, in wheelchair, Dorian, Brown, 13, of Akron and Robert DeJournett, also from Akron, right, for a taping of the show, after the LeBron James Family Foundation King for Kids Bike-a-thon

Wearing a red shirt sporting the word “Akron,” James also thanked that city and its mayor for extending open arms to the player and his family. He said this is the most precious day of the year for him.

“Because I’m able to give back to the city that I grew up in, the city that I love,” James said to cheers. “And the city that I will always give back to.”