MARK GILLISPIE, Associated Press
CLEVELAND (AP) — The oft-maligned city of Cleveland is on quite a roll.
Cheers broke out, car horns tooted and the whoops of joyous fans filled the city’s streets Friday as word spread quickly that Ohio’s prodigal son, LeBron James, is returning to the Cavaliers.
The four time-NBA MVP announced Friday in an essay published in Sports Illustrated his decision to leave the Miami Heat and move his considerable talents and the prospect of an NBA championship back to Cleveland.
“I never thought it would be a reality,” said a smiling Larry Boothe, 25, who had purchased a celebratory six-pack of beer in Cleveland’s Warehouse District that he planned to share with his co-workers.
The free agent’s decision is the latest in a run of good news for the hard-working city of Cleveland, which is mired in a 50-year sports championship drought.
Earlier in the week, Republican officials announced they would be bringing their national convention and the hundreds of millions of dollars it will generate to Cleveland in 2016.
Also, the woeful Browns, which in 1964 became the last Cleveland team to win a title, grabbed headlines when they drafted flashy quarterback Johnny Manziel in May, a move that raised expectations for the team’s return to its former glory.
And now James, a product of nearby Akron and St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, is returning to the fold.
Dave Nelson, 49, will never forget when and where he learned of James’ return. Nelson had just been wheeled into the recovery room at Fairview General Hospital in Cleveland after knee surgery on Friday when his surgeon approached. 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,” Nelson said in an interview with the Associated Press 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.”
Manziel, whose reign as Cleveland’s most talked-about athlete ended Friday, was elated on Twitter: “YESSSSSSSS!!” he wrote, saying he couldn’t be happier for James and the city of Cleveland.
At an outdoor restaurant table, Jessica Spachner said she and others can now forgive him for announcing on national television in 2010 that he was leaving the Cavaliers for Miami, where he helped the Heat win two championships in four seasons.
“People forgive pretty quickly,” the 27-year-old Spachner 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, and the extension for season ticket inquiries rang busy Friday afternoon.
Friday morning, before the announcement, John Boland, 66, and buddy Gordon Hewitt, 67, were headed into a suburban Cleveland theater to catch a movie. Boland had owned season tickets that he said became “worthless” once James left.
He expressed his disdain for James, but said he hoped the superstar would return to Cleveland.
Before heading inside, Hewitt said he hoped that when they emerged from the theater that they would learn that James had indeed come home. Reached a few hours later, Hewitt said he was elated and that James’ heartfelt words about returning to Cleveland had done much to assuage his longstanding resentment.
Hewitt recalled spending childhood evenings on the front porch with his father listening to radio broadcasts of Indians games. Every year, Hewitt said, his optimistic father would proclaim that this could be the season.
Maybe James’ return will seal the deal on such a proclamation at last.
The rebuilding of downtown Cleveland, the forthcoming Republican convention, and the addition of “Johnny Football” to the Browns all give Cleveland hope, he said.
“We have a lot of things going for us,” Hewitt said, “and we should be proud.”