LeBron James, widely considered the top high school basketball player in the country and likely the No. 1 overall pick in June's NBA draft, has committed to play in the Capital Classic all-star game at MCI Center, an event organizer said yesterday.
Paperwork from James confirming his intention to play in the April 17 game arrived yesterday, said Bob Geoghan, president of SportsAmerica Inc., the Rockville-based firm that runs the event. It is the third all-star game that James, who plays for St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, has committed to this winter.
James also has committed to play in the McDonald's All-American all-star game on March 26 at Gund Arena in Cleveland, a source close to game organizers said, and the Roundball Classic, scheduled for Chicago on March 31.
A player can only play in two all-star games and retain NCAA eligibility.
St. Vincent-St. Mary Coach Dru Joyce could not be reached to comment last night.
Fans have packed in into college arenas to see James play this season, and some of his team's games have been broadcast on cable television and pay-per-view. The Capital Classic, meantime, hasn't sold out since 1981. The game has had an average announced attendance of 9,006 over the past six years, including 7,473 last year -- the lowest figure in that stretch.
"I think this will stir up the imagination for fans," Geoghan said. "Hopefully, people will say, 'I want to see this guy and see if he's as good as they say.' "
The Capital Classic pursued James as it does any other high school standout, Geoghan said.
"In this case, we really didn't do anything differently," he said. "We sent a letter and an invitation to him, and . . . we got a phone call back asking a few questions. . . . I know he loves Michael Jordan [whose company sponsors the game], and the fact the players get to meet Michael at this event may have helped."
With James, the Capital Classic can boast commitments from three of the nations' top players, Geoghan said. Ndudi Ebi, a 6-foot-10 center from Houston's Westbury Christian, and Duke-bound forward Luol Deng (Blair, N.J.) also have formally committed.
James has attracted nearly as much attention away from the basketball court in the past month. In January, he was investigated by the Ohio High School Athletic Association after he received a $50,000 Hummer SUV as an 18th birthday present from his mother. It was determined he had not violated any amateurism rules.
Then earlier this month, the OHSAA suspended James for accepting two replica jerseys worth $845 from a Cleveland area clothing store in exchange for posing for pictures with the store's owner. James was granted a reprieve by an Ohio judge days later and is now awaiting another hearing on the matter on March 5.
This will be the 30th annual Capital Classic, and the event will include a preliminary game with local all-star players, as well.
Staff writer Jon DeNunzio contributed to this report.