I’ll be honest. In September 2010, upon reading that Israel’s Division I mediocre team Barak Netanya acquired Romeo Travis, the 2003 St. Vincent St. Mary (SVSM) national high school champion, I thought ‘Who?’
Don’t get me wrong. I was always aware of the Fab 5 gang from Ohio; I simply couldn’t remember any of their names except — LeBron James. To my surprise, during that very season, Travis, one of the Fab 5, who bounced around in Spain and Germany before landing in Israel, became a force within the league. He established himself as a pillar of the team as Netanya unexpectedly reached the state cup finals.
In 2011, Travis joined Galil/Gilboa and currently averages 18.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, leading his team to the 2nd seed in the country. Galil recently clinched the European Balkan League title where Romeo earned All Forward of the Year honors, posting 13.4 points, 6.6 boards and 2.2 dimes per game.
Still, who was Romeo Travis? I thus began my quest to learn more about the Akron native who invented the human ‘Washing Machine’ dance.
Back in December 2010, before a home game, I caught Travis warming up on the sidelines with a fresh pair of kicks that were yet to make their way to local Nike stores. ‘Aren’t those the new LeBron’s?’ I asked Travis, whose face lit up with a smile as he replied, ‘Yup, this is my birthday present, man.’
And that’s when it hit me. Although they haven’t shared a locker room for over nine years, Travis’ high school teammate, Miami Heat’s basketball phenom LeBron James still remains in touch. Constantly.
‘Rome (Romeo) and I talk all the time,’ James told Eurobasket. ‘We talk after tough games and great games. I’ll always support him just like he will always support me. That’s what family is all about.’
Prior to signing with Netanya, Travis and James met at SVSM’s high school gym to work on their game. Netanya’s offer to play pro ball in Israel was on the table and Travis turned to James for guidance.
‘I told him that Israel had one of the best international leagues and it was an amazing opportunity. I’ve heard so many amazing things about the country and can’t wait to visit,’ said James, who in 2006 experienced some Israeli ball when playing a pre-season exhibition game with the Cavs against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Right before pounding the New York Knicks in Game 1 of the NBA playoffs series and just 48 hours before Travis hits the playoff battles in Gan Ner, I caught up with ‘King James’.
‘Its amazing,’ James pleasingly reacted to the journey of the SVSM Fab 5, who were all inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame last summer. ‘To see where we started, just a bunch of kids from Akron, and now everyone has great things going. Those guys (Dru Joyce III, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee and Travis) are one of the best things to happen in my life and I love seeing everyone succeed.’
Travis and James always planned to reunite on the court and declared mission accomplished this past July while representing Akron in the Cleveland Pro-Am games.
‘Playing with Romeo is awesome no matter where. Could be in summer league, high school, or my backyard in Akron,’ James commented.
While Travis hopes to protect Akron’s summer title in the Pro-Am games, James has other plans. International ones. ‘This summer is all about the Olympics,’ James says. ‘It’s going to be tough to do the (Pro-Am) game again this year.’
James, behind the eight ball ever since entering the league in 2003, is still in search of his first NBA ring. Playing his best and most dominant season yet, James admits that winning MVP ‘would be a great honor, but nothing is more important to me than an NBA championship. It’s all that matters right now.’
During the recent NBA lockout, James entertained the idea of visiting the Holy Land and supporting Travis from courtside. ‘Ive loved watching his success and I would love to see Rome play in Israel, which has a great level of play. Not sure when, but visiting Israel is definitely on my list.’
Israeli businessman Ra’anan Katz, a partial shareholder of the Heat and former partner of Maccabi Tel Aviv, still financially contributes to Israeli teams. However, Katz and James have yet to discuss bringing the Heat to hoop in Israel.
‘We’ve never discussed about that,’ James confessed, ‘but as I said, I definitely want to go to Israel. If it’s to play hoops, even better.’
While Travis made a habit of joining James in the United States during the post season, it seems that Galil’s hopes of reaching the Final Four will keep Travis on this side of the Atlantic for now.