CANTON Cheese off the king and you pay the price.
Local Papa John's shops are offering 23-cent pizzas Thursday as part of a promotion stemming from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards first-round series in the NBA playoffs.
It all started when a Washington, D.C., Papa John's operator wanted to have some fun and diss Cavaliers star LeBron James by giving out T-shirts mocking James, emblazoned with James' jersey number (23) and "CRYBABY," while sporting the national pizza chain's logo.
A total of eight shirts were distributed, without corporate approval, said Chris Sternberg, senior vice president of corporate communications for Papa John's. But images of the shirts, including a Washington fan wearing one, were shown during the television broadcast of game 6 Friday.
"This was not a game-wide promotion," Sternberg said. "A picture is worth a thousand words."
"Cleveland fans were upset and rightfully so, and we felt it was the right thing to say Papa John's doesn't endorse this," he said.
As a goodwill gesture for Cleveland fans, Papa John's is offering the apology pizza. One large, one topping pizza for 23 cents. And for the skeptics out there who believe it may be too good to be true, yes, cheese does not count as the one topping. Pick pepperoni, sausage, onions, whatever your tastebuds desire.
There are restrictions: Carryout only. Orders can be made by phone or at a Papa John's shop. No on-line orders. And there's a limit of one pizza per person per visit.
All proceeds from the 23-cent pizzas are being donated to the Cavaliers Youth Fund. The company is donating $10,000 to the fund and $10,000 to the LeBron James Family Foundation.
The Canton, Massillon, Perry Township, North Canton, Louisville, New Philadelphia, Alliance, and Uniontown Papa John's locations are among 49 in Ohio participating in the promotion, Sternberg said. The list expanded from 40 to 49 stores when Toledo and Youngstown franchises wanted to join in.
The participating Stark County restaurants include:
• 3001 Cleveland Ave. NW, Canton
• 4527 Tuscarawas St. W, Perry Township
• 1206 Lincoln Way E., Massillon
• 13038 Cleveland Ave., Uniontown
• 1115 North Main St., North Canton
508 W. Main St., Louisville
1210 W. State St., Alliance
1315 Fourth St., New Philadelphia
The jab at James outraged some Cleveland fans. Papa John's corporate office received about 200 complaints Saturday and Sunday through phone calls or e-mail, Sternberg said.
The saga started when James, nicknamed "King James," commented about the hard fouls and physical style of play displayed by Washington players during the playoff series, which Cleveland won 4-2, advancing to the second round against the Boston Celtics.
A Washington player responded to James' comments by calling him a "crybaby."
Papa John's is bracing for an onslaught of hungry Cavaliers fans.
Sternberg expects the Cleveland area locations to do eight to nine times more business than on a typical Thursday. Papa John's is sending in employees and supervisors from other stores and extra food supplies.
"We think it's going to be probably the largest one-day sales event in the history of the Cleveland area Papa John's restaurants," Sternberg said.
In a press release, the pizza chain tries to make peace with King James.
"There is no question that LeBron James is an excellent role model and great for the NBA," said Bill Freitas, president of the Papa John's advertising cooperative in Washington, D.C. "We sincerely apologize to LeBron James and Cavaliers fans throughout the country and wish the Cavaliers luck during the rest of the playoffs."