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They say lightning never strikes twice. They say that you can’t go home again. They say there are no second acts in American lives.
They are wrong.
On Friday, the sports world – and much of the real world – finally learned the news of LeBron James’ decision to return to Cleveland, to resume his brilliant career with the Cavaliers and complete a mission that began on Draft Night in 2003.
Of course, that mission took a four-year layover in Miami – where James made as many trips to the Finals, winning two more MVP awards and his first two NBA Championships.
But in his poignant, powerful letter that appeared on SI.com on Friday morning, James spoke of his maturation as a player and person, his undying love for Northeast Ohio and his desire to bring a championship to the area where he grew up. It was about redemption and forgiveness and finding a way forward.
James, who grew up in Akron and was drafted by the Wine and Gold out of St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School, equated his four-year stretch in Miami to going away to college, where he learned to be “a better player and a better man.” During that eventful undergrad, he learned how to win titles after infamously taking his talents to South Beach. And on Friday, he announced that he’s bringing those talents and that knowledge home.
It’s almost impossible to post all of LeBron James’ career statistics and achievements. As a basketball player, he transcends numbers and trophies. He is universally recognized as the greatest ballplayer – if not the greatest athlete – on the planet today.
Along with his two titles – earning Finals MVP in each – he’s been named the league’s Most Valuable Player four times, won two Olympic gold medals, was the Rookie of the Year, won a scoring title, was named to ten All-Star Games (winning MVP twice), ten All-NBA teams, six All-Defensive teams and is still the Wine and Gold’s all-time leading scorer.
LeBron’s litany of jaw-dropping individual performances is almost as plentiful – from notching a triple-double in first career playoff game against Washington in 2005 to his game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer against Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals to his mind-boggling playoff performance against Detroit in which he almost single-handedly topped the Pistons, scoring the squad’s final 25 points in a dramatic 109-107 double-overtime victory.
James’ last postseason appearance with the Cavaliers was in 2010, when they were eliminated by the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semis. When James left after that series, the average age of Cleveland’s starting lineup around him was 33.7 years of age. When he returns, he’ll be joining a promising young core that includes the previous All-Star Game’s MVP, Kyrie Irving – who recently inked an extension with the club – as well as the top-scoring reserve in the Eastern Conference, Dion Waiters, and the No. 1 picks of the two previous NBA Drafts, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins. All are under the age of 23.
“It’s been an exciting day,” said Wiggins, who’s had a wild first three weeks as a Cavalier. “First, we had a great practice, great shootaround, and we also heard the good news about LeBron and that was a great feeling right there – the best player in the game today coming to your team. It’ll be a great learning experience for everyone to go under his wing.”
Soon, LeBron will also side up with Tristan Thompson, another up-and-comer who hasn’t missed a start in two seasons and was out in Vegas to take in the Cavaliers Summer League opener.
“It’s a good time to be living in the 2-1-6,” beamed the fourth-year forward. “This is what playing on the highest stage is all about. When you bring one of the greatest players to ever play this game on your team – and him being from the Ohio area and once playing for the Cavs – it’s going to be quite thrilling.”
Another drastic change from James’ last go-round is on the Cavs bench, where David Blatt replaced the LeBron’s previous head coach, Mike Brown, who was let go following the previous season.
Blatt comes to Cleveland after establishing himself as one of the most prolific international coaches in recent hoops history, and his intense, high-energy style has already been infectious through the first few days of his tenure. That energy will be infinitely amped up when James eventually joins the squad.
“The thing that stands out in my mind right now is how great this is for the state of Ohio and the city of Cleveland – and the city of Akron and a few other places – and what it means to a lot of people,” said Blatt. “Inside of basketball, outside of basketball – it’s really a great moment.”
When LeBron was originally drafted by the Wine and Gold, he promised to light up Cleveland like Las Vegas. And over the past week, he had both Cleveland and Vegas lit up with speculation over his next move after declaring himself an unrestricted free agent in late June.
On a sweltering Friday morning in Sin City, as the Cavs Summer League squad was just stretching for morning shootaround, the news broke of LeBron’s pending return. Blatt huddled up his team to break the news – and afterward it was back to business for Cleveland’s rookie coach. But he had a hard time masking his excitement after the team wrapped up their AM session.
”(James’ return) was not in my plan, to be honest with you,” smiled Blatt. “I didn’t’ come in thinking this was going to happen – although it was in the air, it was something that was desirable and being considered. But it’s not every day that you get to coach the best basketball player in the world.
”I was fortunate, some years ago, to coach the best basketball player in Europe, and incidentally he came to play in Cleveland – Anthony Parker, who played with LeBron. But this is far beyond my expectations.”
In terms of exceeded expectations, the Wine and Gold’s summer has been off the charts. Following a disappointing 33-49 season that saw them miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season, the Cavs have seen the fates smile upon them. Landing the greatest player of his generation should be the icing on Cleveland’s cake, but there might still be moves in the offing.
But that’s getting way ahead of Friday’s seminal events.
Right now, it’s time to embrace the eventual return of perhaps the greatest athlete in the history of a long-suffering city. It’s time to read and re-read his emotional letter. Every word of it is enough to reduce a Cavalier fan and/or Northeast Ohioan to tears, but the one simple word that strikes a personal note is “our” – as in “our city hasn’t had that feeling (of winning a championship) 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.”
It’s our city again. He’s one of us again.
Friday marked the re-coronation of a future Hall-of-Famer seeking rings and redemption. And for a blue-collar city’s fans that’ve endured some of sports’ biggest heartbreaks – it just feels good to feel good.