LeBron James is once again a Cleveland Cavalier.
Has that sunk in yet?
For Cleveland fans, there’s no way to express what it felt like when James announced his return to the Cavaliers on Friday, July 11. Though it seemed like a distinct possibility in the days leading up to the announcement, almost every fan can admit that they were in a state of disbelief once the news finally came through.
As a writer, I love the way James chose to announce his return. I’m a firm believer that there is no more intimate form of communication than the written word, and James’ letter posted on SportsIllustrated.com is proof of that.
In all the years that I have watched sports, I’ve never encountered an individual to be more synonymous with a region than James.
For Northeast Ohio, he’s so much more than an athlete — he’s our son, our brother — he’s family.
James’ letter confirmed that the feeling is mutual. Just take a look at some of these excerpts:
Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now…
…When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio…
…My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.
In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.
I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.
How do you feel upon reading that?
I’ll tell you how I felt — I cried. Not just chin tremble, but real, authentic tears.
In his letter, James writes that he wants to make a difference in this region. He’s already well on his way to accomplishing that.
For better or worse, Cleveland and Northeast Ohio seem to have a less than stellar reputation with the rest of country. How many times have you heard the city called “The Mistake on the Lake?” What about the references to being the most cursed city in sports?
It’s these negative stereotypes that led to this website launching with the title “Everybody Hates Cleveland.”
Yet, suddenly, all of that seems insignificant.
We have LeBron James to thank for that.
James’ letter was the opposite of “The Decision” in 2010. That event would be equivalent to me gathering up my wife’s family to inform them I was filing for divorce. Fans thought of James as family, and this comparison is not all that over the top.
James clearly saw the error of his way, and made sure to not make the same mistake. Like the very people that comprise this region, James came off as humble, grounded and polite in his letter — his love for the area was evident.
James’ opinion carries clout. As long as he’s here, the national media will revere Cleveland, and the Cavaliers should have no problem attracting free agents.
Yet, the beautiful thing is that James’ commitment to Cleveland is really just the icing on the cake for this city and sports. Think back to the last 20 months or so.
Did you ever believe that Terry Francona would be the manager of the Cleveland Indians? This was a guy who had won two World Series with the Boston Red Sox and was one of the most well-respected persons in baseball. Why would he ever want to commit to Cleveland?
Yet, he did, and proceeded to win Manager of the Year honors in his first year at the helm while guiding the Indians to a 92-70 record and a return to the postseason. Most agree that the best is yet to come for Francona and the Indians.
Did you ever think that you would see Johnny Manziel in a Cleveland Browns uniform? Manziel was arguably the most popular collegiate athlete in the last 25 years, so given Cleveland’s luck, what were the chances that he would actually quarterback this team?
But Manziel made it clear right away that he could see himself in Cleveland. In February, he was quoted in a Cleveland Plain Dealer story as saying, “If something happens and it’s the Cleveland Browns (at No. 4), I’m going to pour my heart out for the Dawg Pound and try to win a Super Bowl for Cleveland. I don’t care if they’ve had 20 starting quarterbacks since 1999. I’m going to be the 21st and the guy that brought them the Super Bowl.”
Comments like that will quickly endear an individual to a fanbase, and that was the case for Manziel, who quickly became a favorite with Browns fans. But did you really think that Johnny Football would be selected by the Browns?
Who really believed that the Cleveland Cavaliers could win back-to-back NBA Draft Lotteries? In 2013, I remember my father-in-law taking a playful shot at me by saying, “Well, you guys chose the wrong year to win the lottery.”
I jokingly responded, “That’s okay, we’ll just win next year’s too.”
It’s a beautiful thing when you’re right.
Because of their lottery wins, we’ve seen the Cavaliers add Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. Wiggins is sure to be a star, and Bennett still has considerable upside as well. There is no doubt that young talent like this played a factor in luring James back to Lake Erie.
So, what exactly does this mean? Are the cosmos suddenly aligned and pointed toward Cleveland? Has a prophet revealed Cleveland to be his favorite city?
It just is what it is — Cleveland has had a nice string of luck.
But the fact is that there is probably no other area more deserving of this current sports renaissance than Cleveland.
Anyone who has ever spent a day in Cleveland knows — it’s just different.
Sometimes it’s different in a good way (selling out nearly every Cleveland Browns games despite the team’s failures). Other times it’s different in a bad way (driving to LeBron James’ house and parking up and down his street to await an announcement on his decision).
No one will ever deny Cleveland fans’ passion though. It’s constant and clear as day.
I’ve been around some of the other top fan bases in the country. As an undergraduate student, I lived in Pittsburgh for four years while attending Duquesne University. I saw plenty of black and gold and saw the passion and pride that Pittsburgh Steelers’ fans exhibited.
They’re great fans. They’re not Cleveland fans though.
I frequently visit Philadelphia as my wife is originally from that area. Whether it’s the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers or 76ers, these fans are loud, brash and obsessive about their sport teams.
It’s a tremendous sports city. It’s not Cleveland though.
Cleveland is just different.
But different does not mean bad.
After all, LeBron James loves Cleveland.
Terry Francona loves Cleveland.
Johnny Manziel loves Cleveland.
Everybody loves Cleveland.