LeBron James is returning to Cleveland — but he never really left

LeBron James put Akron on the map 13 years ago, when he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated packaged as “The Chosen One.” Now he’s appointed himself to be the man to bring glory back to the region.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: July 11, 2014
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photo - FILE - In this Dec. 25, 2009 file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James reacts during the second half against the Los Angeles Lakers in an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles. James told Sports Illustrated on Friday, July 11, 2014, he is leaving the Miami Heat to go back to the Cleveland Cavaliers. (AP Photo/Lori Shepler, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 25, 2009 file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James reacts during the second half against the Los Angeles Lakers in an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles. James told Sports Illustrated on Friday, July 11, 2014, he is leaving the Miami Heat to go back to the Cleveland Cavaliers. (AP Photo/Lori Shepler, File)

The Drive. The Fumble. The Shot.

LeBron only added to the misery four years ago with The Decision.

Cleveland sports fans aren’t just accustomed to bad things happening. They expect it and fearfully guard against any and all positive outcomes.

Take for example my old college buddy, Stan.

Stan is from Ohio. Youngstown to be exact. He’s a big time fan of each of Cleveland’s three major sports, as well as the Ohio State Buckeyes. I knew what LeBron’s decision would mean for Ohio natives, and so I sent Stan a text the night before LeBron’s announcement to ask how he was holding up in the midst of rampant rumors and speculation.

“Trying to make it,” he responded. “Don’t want to get my hopes up too high. I don’t think he’s coming back.”

My response: “Spoken like a true Cleveland fan.”

James is now dedicating himself to eradicating that loser’s mentality. He’s trying to give the people of Northeast Ohio something to believe in.

It’s an admirable mission, but one that’s mostly been impossible since the manufacturing industry began betraying Ohioans in the late 80s and early 90s, first with steel mills in Cleveland and Youngstown and then the rubber plants in Akron.

Layoffs resulted in hardships, unemployment, crime and broken families. LeBron briefly touched on those issues when he referenced the struggles of his community.

“I want to give them hope when I can,” he wrote.

His best vehicle is basketball.

James talked about how Cleveland hasn’t had the feeling of winning a championship in “a long, long, long time.” It’s been 50 years since the 1964 Browns won the NFL Championship. And though he always has been quick to distinguish Akron from Cleveland, LeBron used the phrase “our city” to make his point.

You don’t grow up in Norman not caring about the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Add in the plethora of talent the Cavs have acquired since 2010 and it became a no-brainer for James to return.

LeBron made mentions of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s irate letter and Cavs fans burning his jersey the night he left and brutally booing him upon his early trips back. But he made peace with those things. He admitted Cleveland fans’ passion can be overwhelming, but that’s what makes them great.

“It drives me,” James wrote.

And so he’s headed home, giving the great people of Northeast Ohio something to believe in once more.

The Return.

by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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