The news traveled fast down Euclid Avenue, eyes fixed on phones as the lunchtime crowd walked through Public Square and into the shadow cast by a 125-foot monument that honors some of northeast Ohio’s heroes – those who once left and never returned.
“Hey, did you hear this?” Kevin Tucker, who has spent all of his 23 years in Cleveland, said into his phone. “You got the TV on or what?”
They all kept reading and hearing LeBron James was coming back. But Tucker wanted confirmation. They all did. This kind of thing doesn’t happen here, in a city that has grown used to losing and desertion.
Its last championship came in 1964, when the Browns won the NFL title, before the Super Bowl even existed.
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“It’s Cleveland,” Tucker said after he hung up.
But Friday was different, and their hope, for once, hadn’t been in vain: James, who grew up in nearby Akron, spent his first seven NBA seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, then rubbed his hometown fans’ noses in his 2010 departure by announcing that he was taking his talents to the Miami Heat, was returning.
Or, as he put it in an essay published by Sports Illustrated: “I’m coming home.”
With those three words one of the world’s transcendent athletes and the NBA’s most valuable free agent soothed a burned fan base, scratched a personal itch to return to Cleveland and personally addressed his own plans.
When Haven Ohly, 35, read James’ announcement, convinced it wasn’t a hoax, he dropped everything at his office on East Ninth Street and, because it was the only thing that made sense to do, sprinted five blocks to Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavaliers’ home court.
He stood at the corner of Ontario Street and East Huron Road, clapping until his hands were red; he was so overcome with joy that he didn’t feel the pain until his hands stopped slapping into each other.
“Nobody has had it like us. Everything has gone wrong,” Ohly said, still in his dress clothes. “So this is a chance to make it right. This means so much for the people who live here.”
Fans gathered and applauded and cheered across Huron Street from Quicken Loans Arena, the horns still honking two hours after Ohly ran from his office and started the parade. Some of them debated which jersey number James would wear, which fellow stars might join him in Cleveland, and where the inevitable statue would be erected. They talked about homecoming and forgiveness, and, boy, did you read James’s essay? Written like a true, red-blooded Ohioan.
“I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my home town,” James said. “I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.”
The people here liked that.
“All is forgiven,” Clevaland attorney Eric Baisden said.