There are not a lot of words to describe the 11 years you’ve spent in a Cavalier uniform. Since the day you were drafted, the journey you’ve taken us on has been like a ride at Cedar Point’s Millennium Force.
I’ve been one of the most privileged sports fans to be able to grow up on Cleveland watching you play for all of us in Northeast Ohio. From beating the Pistons in Double OT to hitting game winners against the fearsome Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic, you were the savior for our long-long-tortured fan base that had already experienced much more than its fair share of heartbreak in the Fumble, the Drive, The Move and watching the baseball hit off Nagy’s glove. We were finally moving in the right direction, it seemed.
During all this time, you gave so much to our community off the court. People all across the area rushed to downtown Cleveland to watch you take the court, leading to a great economic growth for local business owners. You did so much charity work off the court to do your best to raise members of our community to a better status of living.
I guess that’s what made the decision so shocking.
From a basketball standpoint, I completely understood it, but I and a lot of others couldn’t understand how a hero in Cleveland could just pack it up and leave for Miami like that. Just like any other Cleveland fan, my heart burned up like your jerseys did. Most of my basketball fandom was more anti-LeBron than pro-Cavs. Yet, through all the hate an animosity you received, you remained loyal to your hometown and continued to support our community. You always understood that life was bigger than basketball and that’s the main reason I have such massive respect for you. You never forget where you came from and you came back to inspire youth to always look after the place they grew up. To take care of their neighbors. To maybe consider coming back to their hometown to open a business or raise a family.
When you decided to come back to Cleveland, it was one of those moments that you remember exactly where you were when you heard the news. I remember the morning of July 11, when I climbed out of the neighborhood pool after my morning workout and checked my phone and subsequently screaming for joy while all the people around me gave me strange looks. It was surreal; my hometown hero, after leaving our team in ruin, was back for what seemed to be for good.
Over the next season, the team fought through a number of adversities to reach the finals. The team didn’t gel very well together in the first few games after you came back. After missing a stretch of two weeks, you, as one of the most innovative players in basketball, fixed your back and have missed no significant time since then. And when the playoffs did come around, it took a Herculean effort from you to lead us to the finals after losing Kevin Love to injury and having Kyrie hobbled throughout most of the postseason. If it weren’t for injury, this season of twists and turns probably should have ended in our first Larry O’Brien trophy.
But it didn’t. We were eliminated in six games by the Golden State Warriors, a team that we little knew would crush many of hopes that we originally had when you came back. Honestly, when you came back, I thought we could win three championships in four years.
I guess this loss made 2016 so much sweeter.
Although there was some off the court drama, we were able to make it through the postseason healthy and confront the Golden State Warriors team that had set the record for single-season wins. Although our hopes were high coming into the finals, it looked like our title drought was going to extend to 53 years after falling down 3-1 to a team that hadn’t lost back to back, let alone 3 straight, games all season.
But being the Greatest of all time, you didn’t back down from the challenge. You dropped 41 points at the Oracle in Game 5 with Kyrie. You put on a monster performance to rout the Warriors out of The Land in Game 6. And then in Game 7, I don’t even have words to describe the emotions I felt when you chased down Andre Iguodala to make The Block and Kyrie Irving hit the shot to bring us our first title in what we can all agree was a bit too long. We were finally relieved. The Kid from Akron that we had drafted 13 years earlier was finally a champion in his hometown.
While the last two years have been extremely difficult and unfair for you with Kevin Durant’s move to the Warriors, you’ve still inspired millions of young people like myself to go after their passions and give back to their community. LeBron, you’ve personally inspired me to go after my dreams of being a professional sports analyst and have given me plenty to write about as I work to achieve that goal. You’ve shown me how to be proud of my hometown in Cleveland, although I don’t live there anymore. You’ve made me want to go back to my city one day and do my best to make it a better place for everybody. Growing up in Cleveland has instilled the virtues of hard work and perseverance into me and you’re a great personification of what we do in The Land. You show how to earn things when they aren’t given. Thank you, LeBron, for never ceasing to represent our community no matter the circumstances, good or bad.
And now, we once stand at another crossroads. You owe nothing to Cleveland. We’ve been spoiled as sports fans to be able to watch you for 11 years. But again, its not about basketball. You’re bigger than basketball to me. You’re a model of what people should do for their neighbors. You’ve put so many kids through college to help them lift their communities like you have done to your own. You’ve opened up your own school in Akron to bring a better quality of education to the children there. You’ve made me love where I came from when so many around me have ridiculed it.
Obviously, I’d love for you to stay. I’m a huge basketball fan and having the best player on my team is something that has been a huge privilege for me. But whatever you chose to do this summer, I won’t be burning your jersey. Instead, I’ll put it up on my wall to serve as a reminder of what we all should do for our communities.
Thank you for everything, LeBron. You’ll always be King in Cleveland and you can always come home. No matter what happens now, you’ll forever be remembered in our history. Your number will be in the rafters, where it belongs. Wherever you chose to play basketball, I’ll always remember the important thing: what you have done and will continue to do for our community. And if you chose to play somewhere else, I hope you get the rings you need to surpass the Ghost in Chicago. I love you, LeBron, and I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.
Image: LeBron James Nike Commercial