Quick, sports in Akron – what's the first thing to come to mind?
Your first thought was probably LeBron James, and obviously that's a great place to start. However, Akron has long had a love affair with sports.
In the early 1900s, Goodyear, Firestone, and General Tire encouraged intramural sports as a way for employees to team build. Intramural basketball was wildly popular in Akron and competitive. It was so serious that as teams associated with factories all across the region sprang up, Goodyear and Firestone helped form the National Basketball League in the 30s, which would go on to become the National Basketball Association (NBA).
While it was great to have the Akron teams win the NBL championship, the game that mattered most here at home was when the Goodyear Wingfoots played against the Firestone Non-Skids. This game produced bragging rights and heroes.
For example, a Charles Hollis Taylor hit a game winning shot with 2 seconds left and the Non-Skids celebrated their victory over the Wingfoots. Taylor used the press he received from the win to eventually get his name, Chuck Taylor, on the classic Converse shoe.
Now Akron is widely known as the home of one of the greatest basketball players in the world, LeBron James. Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors was born in the same hospital as James, and Larry Nance Jr. was born here and grew up in Summit County.
Professional basketball wasn't the only sport to have it's early history run through Akron. In 1920, a local semi-pro team changed its name to the Akron Pros when it joined the American Professional Football Association. That same year they won the championship with the help of star player Fritz Pollard.
The owners admired Pollard so much that in 1921, they made him head coach. They joined the NFL the following year making them a charter member of the new organization and making Pollard the first African-American coach in the NFL.
Another notable player on the team was Paul Robeson, who after his brief time playing for the Akron Pros, went on to become a famous actor in the early days of the silver screen.
In 1997, Canal Park opened in downtown Akron as home of the Double-A baseball, Akron Aeros. In 2013, the team changed its name to the RubberDucks in a nod to Akron's rubber and toy industry. The team helped shape the careers of big league players such as CC Sabathia, Carlos Santana, Jhonny Peralta, Victor Martinez, and Jason Kipnis to name a few.
Thanks to the University of Akron, the city is becoming known for great soccer as well. Under head coach Caleb Porter, the Zips won the 2010 NCAA National Championship. The following year Deandre Yedlin joined the team. Porter went on to coach the MLS Portland Timbers, and Yedlin is a member of the United States Men's National Team, as well as Newcastle United in the Premier League. In 2018, four Akron Zips were chosen in the MLS SuperDraft, including the #1 overall pick, Joao Moutinho.
LeBron James has won two gold and a bronze medal in the Olympics, but he's the the only Olympic medalist to call Akron home. Between brothers Hayes and David Jenkins, they won two gold and a bronze in Men's Figure Skating in the 1956 and 1960 Olympics. Carol Heiss won silver and gold in Women's Figure Skating those same year and went on to marry Hayes Jenkins. James D George also medalled in '56 and '60, but in the Summer Olympics as a weightlifter – winning bronze and silver.
Indulging in our love of competitive sports, Akron co-hosted Gay Games 9 in 2014. Athletes from all over the world came to compete in events such as soccer, golf, the marathon and others taking place here and in the surrounding areas.