AKRON, Ohio The drive took about 35 minutes. Neither man in the car said a word. Everything LeBron James was feeling on that trip to the airport four years ago the pain, the angst, the loss, the fear was written on his face.
For weeks he had tried to find a way to stay, to recruit players to join him in Cleveland, so he wouldn’t have to leave. Ray Allen said no. So did Chris Bosh, Trevor Ariza and Dwyane Wade. Cheap Jerseys free shipping Sure, they wanted to play with him. Who wouldn’t? But not in Cleveland. James was the one with a connection to the place, not them. If he wanted to win, he would have to sever those ties and go somewhere where other stars would join him.
The decision to leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat had been made that morning. LeBron walked around with it uncomfortably all day. He knew it would hurt people, that nothing would ever be the same for him after he did it.
Somehow he got through the final day of his annual basketball camp in Akron without confessing. By the time Damon Jones drove him to the airport, where he would fly to Connecticut and reveal his infamous decision to the world, there was a lump in his throat.
“The ride from his house to the airport is 35 minutes,” said Jones, who played with LeBron from 2005 to 2008 and remained a close friend. “Neither of us said a word. It was tough. You saw it on his face, just his emotions.
“Everybody thought that the Miami decision was planned a week, two weeks prior, but it was in the last minute. He exhausted everything to try and get players to come to Cleveland and play with him. I was there for the whole week, staying in his house. He was agonizing, ‘I want to win. I want to win here, but can we?’
“I don’t think the fans knew that. They think he just went to Miami and that was it.”
LeBron went to Miami all right. He won two titles and evolved into the best basketball player on the planet. He answered his critics with championship trophies. He married the mother of his children, and they built a life in South Florida together. But he never truly left northeastern Ohio.
He kept his home in Akron. He started a foundation to help the city’s kids and promised to be there until they were grown. When they missed a day of school, they often got a call from “Mr. LeBron.”
The place never truly turned its back on him, either. Yes, fans burned his jerseys and cursed his name. They tore down his billboards and painted over his murals. But that was the hurt talking. LeBron isn’t the first kid from a Rust Belt town to leave for warmer weather and starrier nights. Most return only for holidays and funerals.
But LeBron kept coming back. If anything, he planted his roots deeper into this place after he left for Miami. They took note when he spent his summers in Akron instead of at the beach. He built an office nearby and came in to work during the offseason. He trained at his old high school, St. Vincent St. Mary.
Jones was with LeBron again this week when he made the decision to return. After four straight NBA Finals appearances with the Heat, it was as surprising to the rest of the world as his first decision to leave Cleveland.
But this was an easy call. It felt right.
“It was just from one end of the spectrum to the next, from the way it was in 2010,” Jones said. “He was relaxed. He was laughing. He was happy.”
The signs appeared on Market Street in downtown Akron within hours of when James’ letter posted on the Sports Illustrated website Friday morning. The Highland Theater announced, “The King Returns” on its marquee. Walgreens and his favorite burger joint, Swenson’s, wrote, “Welcome Home, LeBron.” Someone placed a homemade poster saying, “Thank you, LeBron! Akron loves you!” in front of his old high school.
Longtime Cavaliers forward Anderson Varejao was in Brazil when he heard the news.
“I was telling everybody like I was a little kid who found out something he wasn’t supposed to find out,” Varejao said. “‘LeBron is coming back! LeBron is coming back!’”
Fans honked their horns as they drove by Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland. Those who hadn’t burned their old No. 23 James Cavaliers jerseys four years ago dug them out of drawers and put them on again.
Nobody in these parts will ever forget the way LeBron hurt them when he left in 2010, but they started forgiving him a long time ago.
Maybe not as much in Cleveland, which celebrated him but didn’t raise him. In Akron, though, he was still family. To this day, he can walk into any store in town and not draw a crowd. He’s just LeBron, Gloria’s son, the skinny kid who bounced from apartment to apartment as a boy, sleeping on the couches of friends of his mom until finding prosperity and stability through sports.
“I’ve known LeBron since he was 8 years old,” said Vikki McGee, who works for his foundation now. “He’s been to fish fries and barbecues in my backyard. I’m just proud he’s from the 330.”
The healing started in 2011, when Akron embraced him after his meltdown in the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. While the rest of the country seemed to delight in his failure, Akron wrapped its arms around him.
“When you break up with a girl, you don’t go on the PA system of the school and say, ‘I’m going to break up with you and start going with Suzy,’” said Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic. “But he’d done so much for this community in ways that most people don’t even realize. We had to stand behind our guy.”
Despite some public pressure to remove signs in Akron that proclaimed, “Home of LeBron James,” Plusquellic insisted they remain.
“I had people mad at me for rooting for LeBron,” Plusquellic said. “I’d go to a sports bar and it was horrible. But it’s just life and how it unfolds sometimes. He made a decision that a lot of people make. They leave their hometowns. But he had done so much, and he continued to do things for Akron. I think that was the right way for us to handle this.”
The common narrative goes something like this: In 2010, Miami Heat president Pat Riley put his five championship rings in front of James on a table, like, Come with me if you want to win some of these. In 2014, with two championship rings of his own, James met with Riley, and his stance was like, Tell me again why I still need you?
But that version suggests that the Heat had a chance to keep James. The truth is Miami was always going to be his temporary home. A place to grow, explore and test himself. Four years of sublime basketball that would change the NBA and the dynamic between owners and superstar players.
Once LeBron, Bosh and Wade demonstrated it was possible for three superstars to team up AAU style, everyone wanted to do it. http://www.cheapjerseysfree904.top Chris Paul made his way out of New Orleans to play with Blake Griffin in Los Angeles. Dwight Howard tried to join Deron Williams with the Nets, ended up in Los Angeles with Kobe Bryant and then bolted for Houston to play with James Harden.