The return of LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers isn't just the biggest story of the NBA offseason — it's also been a major point of pride for an entire fan base and metropolitan area. After years of being left by prominent athletes in many sports, with LeBron's 2010 decision to bolt for South Beach serving as the ultimate disappointment, the people of Cleveland and surrounding areas now have considerable reason to celebrate. Now that the Cavs are set to add All-Star power forward Kevin Love in a matter of weeks, there's only more reason to feel that good times are ahead.
On Friday, Cavs fans finally got to welcome LeBron in a more formal way. In a rally at InfoCision Stadium in his hometown of Akron, roughly 30,000 fans gave James a hero's welcome back to Ohio and the Cavaliers. The event didn't feature the same hyperbole as LeBron's welcome party in Miami four years ago (which is probably for the best), but it did give Cavs fans even more reason to get excited about the return of the four-time MVP. That's because they can expect James to stick around well past the end of his current two-year contract. Zac Jackson of Fox Sports Ohio has more from the event-opening press conference held before several reporters and members of LeBron's foundation:
"I'm not going anywhere ever again," James said. "I don't have the energy (for free agency)."
James spoke for about 15 minutes in an empty locker room at the University of Akron's InfoCision Stadium, just a few miles from where he grew up and attended high school. He made his decision July 11, then flew to Brazil, and has been everywhere from New York City to China in recent weeks. [...]
James said winning a title in Cleveland "would be the greatest achievement of my life on the court."
Multiple reports have the Cavaliers acquiring All-Star forward Kevin Love from the Minnesota Timberwolves later this month, as soon as league rules allow No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins to be traded. Asked to address that, James started by saying he believes Kyrie Irving can be one of the NBA's best points guard, that he "loves the chip on Dion (Waiters') shoulder" and that "we could with nine (Anderson Varejaos) and me." [...]
"If it happens, I'm very excited," James said of Love. "I don't really care about the 26 (points) and 12 (rebounds Love averaged last season). I care about the basketball IQ."
He said he welcomed the additions of former Heat teammates James Jones and Mike Miller because "to bring on champions, that helps in the locker room. They've been there."
The event in Akron has a decidedly populist feel, with seating available on a first-come, first-serve basis for those who were lucky enough to nab free tickets online. Fans lined up as many as four hours in advance of doors opening:
Those lines eventually got much, much longer:
The event will also feature more than 3,000 kids from LeBron's Wheels for Education charity and other appearances. When James and his family came out on the field, the crowd got loud:
LeBron's spoke to the crowd for several minutes, primarily regarding his foundation and the joy of being back in Ohio in a basketball capacity. He finished up by focusing on the extremely positive emotions of the night:
LeBron ends his speech by saying, "I love you. I'm back."— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) August 9, 2014
There were no championship guarantees, no acts of overwhelming hubris. Instead, James chose to match the adoration of Cavs fans with some love of his own. The rally was a celebration, clearly, but there was no sense of declaring premature success. It seems that LeBron has learned something from his first appearance in Miami four years ago.
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