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CULVER CITY, Calif. – There was no question that he would come — to Los Angeles, to the Lakers or to a Blaze Pizza franchise in Culver City. For fans of LeBron James, there was never any doubt.
Well, until the clock hit 5 p.m. Tuesday, ending the frenzy that James himself fostered.
The four-time MVP owns a 10 percent stake in Blaze Pizza, a nationwide pizza joint. On Monday night, he hinted via Twitter that he might make an appearance at the franchise in Culver City. So franchise owner Tom Cook knew that this particular spot, rather than one of the other 10 he owns, would require special attention.
“I was floored [when I saw the tweet], just like everybody else,” Cook told Yahoo Sports before the three-hour window in which James might arrive. “We have no confirmation if he’s actually coming or not. We’ll find out probably shortly beforehand, and not much longer than that.”
Cook said the franchise’s biggest production day is usually March 14, otherwise known as Pi Day, when the business offers $3.14 pies all day long. His crew prepped for Tuesday’s three-hour window in a similar manner, with triple the usual staff.
Of the hundreds that were in line before 2 p.m., Janet Raines was the first. She arrived with a folding chair at 7:30 a.m.
“We’re still keeping the faith whether he will actually show up,” she said. “I would like for him to make me a pizza.” Her reaction when LeBron signed, and was coming to dig her team out of a five-year rut? “Just relief, actually. Definite relief — excitement of him being a part of the team moving forward. I know he’s really involved in the communities where he lives, so I’m excited for that as well.”
Ryan Andrus, a young man about 20th in line, arrived at 11:30 a.m. Like Raines, he was as adamant James would sign with the Lakers as he was that James would turn up to the pizza party.
“He’s gonna show,” Andrus said. “He wouldn’t post something like that and not show up. I mean, look at all these people. He’s gonna be here. It shows that he cares and that he wants to bring a bunch of people together.”
Shopping center security guard Andrew Porter received a call on his way to work from a friend. The friend told him James was showing up at 4114 Sepulveda Boulevard. Porter, a Los Angeles native, was hoping to see James.
But regardless, he was happy for the reprieve from his daily routine.
“This will actually make my day, because we don’t get excitement like this in Culver City — let alone King James,” Andrew said. “It’s not something you can really plan for, since it was last-minute. For me, it’s all hands on deck. You feed off the energy of everybody here. It’s a positive crowd. Makes your day go by good.”
“He is LeBron James, so I won’t hold it against him,” Andrew added. “I’m sure he’s making every effort he can to get here and see this crowd that’s waiting for him.”
Chris Haynes, a FedEx delivery man, was thankful not to be working a desk job (take it up with LeBron if your delivery was late thanks to his extended lunch break). He arrived around 2 p.m. when the pizza party began, as did hundreds of others.
They walked, biked, and drove. They pushed their babies in carriages.
“F— a pizza,” said Austin Ehrlich, who like many just wanted a selfie. “I’m here for LeBron.”
By 4 p.m., though, the smiles faded. James had not shown up, and morale was low. As the clock ticked toward 5 p.m., fans began to reassess why they had spent an “embarrassing” number of hours in the 90-degree heat.
“Do we care this much?” asked a group that took off work for the pizza party. “Do we really care this much?”
It’s Los Angeles. It’s LeBron James. Of course they did.
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