INDEPENDENCE, Ohio >> This LeBron James-to-Philly stuff is getting either silly — or serious.
Just days after three billboards, paid for by a Pennsylvania company, popped up in Ohio urging James to sign with the 76ers this summer as a free agent, the three-time NBA champion reportedly was spotted in the Philadelphia area over the All-Star break touring area high schools.
Sixers TV game analyst Alaa Abdelnaby said he was told that James, who has three kids, looked at private schools in Philadelphia last month.
“I’ve told this to a few other people, and I have no problem saying this,” Abdelnaby said on Philly Sports Talk. “My brother lives in the Philadelphia area and he told me that LeBron, last week through a superintendent, was in the area checking out some private schools during the All-Star break.”
At Thursday’s shootaround before the Cavs hosted the Sixers, James was asked if he was in Philadelphia.
“Pennsylvania? Nah,” he said. “What are you talking about? Over the All-Star break, I was on vacation and then went to Los Angeles.”
Following the group interview session, James was still wondering why he was asked about being in Philadelphia a few weeks ago. Told that it was because of reports that he was spotted there, James grimaced.
“That’s disgusting,” he said.
During the All-Star break, James took his family on a quick getaway to Mexico before playing in his 14th All-Star game. He was named MVP for the third time as a team of players he picked beat a team captained by Golden State’s Stephen Curry.
The 33-year-old James said this week that he was flattered Sixers fans are covet him. He can opt out of his contract this summer — he has a $35.6 option — with Cleveland and become a free agent.
“You can say it’s a distraction, it’s not,” he said. “It is actually very flattering that I’m sitting here at 33 and in my 15th year and teams or guys — I don’t want to say teams because that becomes tampering. But people in their respective city want me to play for them. That’s cool I think. That’s dope.”
The NBA prohibits teams from recruiting potential players. But there’s nothing to impede fans from wooing James, and that will likely intensify as the offseason nears.
With a young roster featuring center Joel Embiid and do-it-all forward Ben Simmons, Philadelphia could be an attractive landing spot for James, who famously left Cleveland in 2010 and signed with the Miami Heat.
James already has a bond with Simmons, who is represented by Rich Paul, one of James’ closest friends and business partners.