July 11, 2014:
"I'm Coming Home:" the article posted to SI.com, courtesy of Sports Illustrated writer Lee Jenkins, were the words of LeBron James: Northeast Ohio's Hero turned Villian turned Prodigal Son.
After winning a pair of titles in South Beach with his cast of characters, LeBron James vowed to bring the Larry O'Brien Trophy to Cleveland... To Akron... To Northeast Ohio...
June 19, 2016:
The final seconds had ticked off of the Clock in Oakland, California. Cavs 93, Warriors 89... Tears streamed down the cheeks of the two-time champion, four-time MVP, Kid from Akron...
Meanwhile, more than twenty-four hundred miles away, Cleveland, Ohio was swarmed with fans sharing the same tears, hugging perfect strangers, dancing on police cars while officers watched in shared jubilation.
He did it; he kept his promise. LeBron had returned to Cleveland and brought the title with him.
(Photo Credit: Justina Bucceri, Rubber City Radio Group)
June 8, 2018:
With still more than four minutes remaining on the game clock in Game 4 of the 2018 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena, LeBron James walked off the court wearing number 23 for the Cleveland Cavaliers. While giving congratulations to members of the Golden State Warriors, who would go on to win Game 4, completing the sweep of the Cavs in the Finals, The Kid from Akron was met with a standing ovation and chants of "MVP! MVP! MVP!" from 20,562 fans, most, if not all of whom were on their feet.
Respect for the man who had put an entire team..., an entire city on his shoulders, and carried them all back to the NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row. A little help from his friends, sure; but "a little" doesn't begin to stress the perceived solo mission LeBron embarked on throughout the 2018 NBA Playoffs.
July 1, 2018:
The daylight was dwindling, but the heat still sweltered. With most of the region wrapping up the day, the news broke, just about 8 p.m.:
Just hours into the NBA Free Agency, LeBron's decision was made, speculation could rest, and a fanbase could be content with a superstar's decision and begin to move forward (or not).
It didn't take Cavs owner Dan Gilbert too long, much like after LeBron's first exit, to respond to LBJ's decision, but the difference in those two responses was night and day:
"We will always remember the evening of June 19, 2016 as the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, ended the 52-year drought delivering the long elusive championship that many thought they would never see... A championship that united generations of Clevelanders, both living and passed.
Virtually anyone with roots in Northeast Ohio paused and felt the memories of the past and the utter joy that the burden of the so-called 'curse' was finally a thing of the past. Cleveland, Ohio was the home of a championship team for the first time since 1964. Words do not express the meaning and the feeling this accomplishment brought to the people of Northeast Ohio.
None of this would have happened if LeBron James did not agree to come back home and lead the Cavaliers to the promised land. The entire Cavaliers franchise thanks LeBron for that precious moment and for all of the excitement he delivered as he led our team to four straight NBA Finals appearances.
LeBron is a family man, first. We wish his kids, his wife Savannah, his mother Gloria, and LeBron himself nothing but the best in the years and decades ahead. LeBron's connection to Akron, Cleveland and all of Northeast Ohio will most certainly endure as his commitment to the region and his support of many important causes has been impactful to so many kids and families.
LeBron, you came home and delivered the ultimate goal. Nothing but appreciation and gratitude for everything you put into every moment you spent in a Cavaliers uniform. We look forward to the retirement of the famous #23 Cavs jersey one day down the line..."
July 2, 2018:
A deep breath.
A moment of reflection.
A realization that most of us in Northeast Ohio do not wake up with the presumption that an athlete or a sport is going to dictate how our day goes. For so many of us, there are our families, our friends, our pets (Hi Amos!), our careers, our hearts and our souls, our love, and the list goes on and on.
Taking solace in that, I tip my cap to you LeBron. I thank you for giving Northeast Ohio that moment on the night of June 19, 2016, when we cried tears of joy, alongside family, friends, and fellow fans; when you swelled a community with pride, love, and unrelenting joy.