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Ohio heralds return of its ‘King James’

07/12/2014, 12:09am EDT

Cleveland celebrates prodigal star’s decision to rejoin Cavs

Ohio heralds return of ‘King James’

Revere High School football players Chase Costanzo, foreground, and Clay Erdie, ran from practice to celebrate with fans outside the home of LeBron James. AKRON BEACON JOURNAL

CLEVELAND — Cleveland hasn’t had this much good news since the first time LeBron James came to town.

First there was the arrival of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel in May’s NFL draft. Then on Tuesday, the national Republican Party all but handed Cleveland its 2016 national convention and hundreds of millions of dollars in business.

And on Friday the city landed perhaps the biggest prize of all — the return of its prodigal son.

James, the four-time NBA MVP and Akron native who once spurned gritty Cleveland for glamorous Miami, is coming home.

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Whatever good karma this long-suffering city built on steel mills and blue-collar labor has coming, formerly downtrodden Clevelanders would surely embrace it.

When word got out that James was bringing his considerable talents back to Cleveland, cheers and beeping car horns could be heard echoing downtown.

People stared at their cell phones with expressions of glee and, perhaps, slight disbelief that it was true: King James really was headed home.

The ultimate hope among many sports fans is that James can quench the inexhaustible thirst Cleveland fans have for a championship after a drought of 50 years.

It was in 1964 that all-world running back Jim Brown and quarterback Frank Ryan carried the Browns to the city’s last championship.

“It’s surreal,” said a smiling Larry Boothe, 25, who had just purchased a celebratory six-pack. “I never thought it would be a reality.”

Lynn Taylor, 51, lovingly mopped ribs, barbecue, and Polish boys — the city’s signature kielbasa sandwich — with her secret sauce outside her Hough Avenue deli on the east side. She said the GOP convention and James would help bring much-needed cash into the city, although she called James a drama queen for the way he left back in 2010. But she’ll take him back.

“Just bring us a championship,” she said.

John Dennison drove in from one of the far eastern suburbs to buy a season-ticket package, ready for the season to start and see James play side-by-side with Kyrie Irving, the first overall pick in 2011.

“This is great for our area,” he said.

The phone number for the Cavaliers’ ticket office boasted of James’ return in a recorded message but noted that single-game tickets aren’t yet available.

The extension for season ticket inquiries, not surprisingly, rang busy.

Dave Nelson, 49, had just been wheeled into the recovery room at Fairview General Hospital in Cleveland after knee surgery on Friday when his surgeon approached. Mr. Nelson said he doesn’t remember what the doctor said about his knee, but recalled: “He said, ‘More importantly, LeBron has come back to the Cavs.’ ”

“This is where he can come to be great,” Mr. Nelson said a few hours later. “You can go anywhere to win championships. But if he can do something like that in this city, he’ll be remembered forever.”

When the news broke, Rob Barto ripped off his shirt and slipped on the No. 23 jersey he wore four years ago when Akron’s prodigal son left for Miami.

Mr. Barto, 27, of northeast Ohio’s Strongsville works at Geometry Global, an advertising agency with an office in Akron. He sat with co-workers at Brubaker’s Pub for a celebratory lunch.

He was wearing the jersey in downtown Cleveland in 2010 when James announced his decision to leave the Cavaliers.

“It was anarchy,” he said. “I think it hurt a lot when he left. It devastated the region.

“But it’s been awhile,” continued Mr. Barto, who attended the first Cavs game when James was booed while wearing a Miami Heat jersey. The boos lessened with each game and, with James’ intent to return, so too has the lingering animosity from his departure.

The downtown Akron crowd, which flooded South Main Street for the Italian-American Festival, was abuzz with news of James’ return Friday.

Conversations culminating from weeks of speculation about Decision 2.0 subsided Friday as festivalgoers reflected on what James’ return meant.

For Mr. Barto, the news meant he and his fiancee would be performing James’ iconic, pregame chalk toss at their wedding in two weeks.

Down the street in the Barley House, the news was huge.

“We had man-tears,” joked Andy Burbules, 42, a Cleveland resident who works in Akron.

Mr. Burbules, who was touched by James’ televised speech, sat with his friend, Marc Benedict, 33, of Stow.

“I was obviously upset four years ago,” Mr. Benedict said. “But I couldn’t blame him for going to Miami.”

Beneath a SportsCenter broadcast, news of James’ return brought back memories for Ray Williams, who moved to Akron just in time to see James leave for Miami.

“I was here the night they burned the jerseys,” Mr. Williams said, pointing to a corner near the bar as SportsCenter replayed scenes of Cavs fans burning jerseys.

Mr. Williams argued with Larry Lee, also of Akron, about whether James would keep his number.

“He can use any number he wants,” Frank Passanisi, a North Ridgeville resident, said from the next bar stool.

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