National Columnist

Welcome home, LeBron ... it's all good in Cleveland again

More: LeBron James' Free Agency Page | Free Agency Tracker

It's all good, LeBron. Come home, prodigal son. Come back to the place you were born, the place where we hated you and missed you and loved you nonetheless. Come back to Akron, to Cleveland, to Ohio.

Nothing but clear skies and clean slates for LeBron as he heads home to the NBA city that gave birth to his career and that he in turn gave back its national sporting relevance. Do you know why Cleveland needed this so badly? Because LeBron's pretty much all we've got, and for the moment I'm going to consider myself a Clevelander, even if I live several hours to the south in Cincinnati, because Cleveland is Ohio and Ohio is Cleveland and today we are one, and if all of this seems sappy to you, well, you must not live in Cleveland. Or in Ohio.

Because this guy, he's ours. He was for the first 25 years of his life, and let me tell you something: We don't get stuff like LeBron very often. It's Cleveland, you know? This isn't South Beach or Los Angeles or New York or Chicago or Denver or ... well, you get the point. Cleveland isn't a lot of places. It's colder here. Less economically viable. Shrinking faster than any major US city but Detroit.

And sports? Don't get me started. You know how John Elway had The Drive? He did it to Cleveland. Michael Jordan had The Shot. He did it to Cleveland. Art Modell had The Move. He did it from Cleveland. The Indians haven't won a World Series since 1948, and they lost it in 1997 -- in Miami, of all places -- because second baseman Tony Fernandez made this error in the 11th inning of Game 7.

Cleveland doesn't have much, is my point, although things are looking up. We -- damn right, we -- just got Johnny Manziel, and he's the most interesting (if infuriating and possibly self-destructive) player in the NFL. We just landed the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Now, LeBron.

Miami is probably hurting, but look at it like this: You had four more years of LeBron than any other city will ever have. Any other city but Cleveland, I mean, and there won't be a third NBA city that gets him. LeBron will retire here. He'll win some NBA titles here, get this franchise back on the NBA map and then retire a hometown, home-state hero. Miami had him for four glorious years, and in those years he breathed life into a franchise that had been suffering from neglect. LeBron led that team to two NBA titles. He can leave there with his head held high, unlike the way he left Cleveland in 2010, when he humiliated Cleveland on national television -- a mistake that he has admitted to making.

Cleveland was mad. Ohio was mad. And I was mad. Here's what I wrote the day LeBron left Cleveland, a screed so comically angry it should have been written in comic sans. Because I was hurt that day, hurt and angry -- not just for me, not for me much at all that day, but for Cleveland. I was crushed that he would crush his city as badly as he did. LeBron? My favorite player in the NBA? He'd do that to Cleveland? Infuriating, and Cleveland let him have it. So did I. Their fans burned his jersey. Their owner wrote a stupid letter to LeBron and posted it on the team's website. And people like me spewed angry, shocked words.

But it's all good now. For most of us, really, the anger and shock had passed years ago. Watching LeBron, even watching LeBron in Miami, was just too fun to ruin with years-old anger. This is the single greatest basketball player of our generation, possibly the single greatest player of all time. Said this before, will say it again: Michael Jordan is the greatest winner in NBA history, but LeBron is the most perfectly created specimen to ever play this game. Chamberlain was more dominant inside. Kobe scores better. Magic passed better. Bird shot better.

Nobody does it all better than LeBron.

And now he will do it again for the home folks, an astonishing show of grace and forgiveness and class on his part. Yes, yes, yes: LeBron left Cleveland in a horrible way. There was no grace from LeBron on July 8, 2010. No class. And so from Cleveland there was no forgiveness. We treated him -- damn right, we -- like the heartless traitor that, for one night, he was. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert embarrassed himself with that stupid letter he posted on his website, a letter he never took down until this week, a letter I used to embarrass myself in 2010 by saying I loved it.

Congratulations to LeBron for looking past our venom and Gilbert's buffoonery. Congratulations to him for seeing the bigger picture, for having the vision in real life that he has on the court. He is coming back home, and he is making all those wrongs from 2010 right in a way that Cleveland needed.

In a way that Cleveland deserved? I wouldn't say Cleveland deserved this moment. Not after the lack of class they -- OK, we -- showed in 2010. There's losing with grace, and we didn't do it in 2010. We lost like jerks, and in doing so lost any claim to deserving LeBron. He didn't owe us his return, but he did owe it to Cleveland, after what he did to us in 2010, to not do it again in 2014. Come back, don't come back, the choice is his. Just don't toy with us, which is how it looked for the last four or five days, when every single sign was pointing to Cleveland. The city was excited and fans made a pilgrimage to his home and LeBron freaked out at the whole thing and changed his plans to leave Las Vegas for Akron on Thursday. With fans and police outside his house outside Akron, he instead flew to Miami. With Dwyane Wade.

This looked bad, like LeBron was going to do it again. And that, we would not have forgiven. Just being honest here: Had LeBron let this free agency go this far, with every sign pointing to Cleveland, and then stayed in Miami? No forgiveness for that cruelty.

But it didn't happen that way. That would have been so wrong, but this is so right. LeBron's back home, back where he started, back where he belongs.

We're going to gloat today in Cleveland. We're gloating all the way down here near Cincinnati. If that strikes you as unseemly or unprofessional, be struck that way. But in my lifetime there's never been a player as good as LeBron. There's never been a player who crushed his home town, and state, as cruelly as he crushed us in 2010.

And now he's back, and we're supposed to act like we've been here before? We've never been here before. No city has ever been here before. A player this good, coming back to a home he left so badly, and coming back in his prime? It's never happened before. It probably won't happen again, at least not in my lifetime.

So give me this moment. Give it to us in Cleveland, and in Ohio. Give it to me again and again and again, as they'd say in Miami.

Give. It. To. Me. Again.

LeBron James can leave Miami with his head held high.  (USATSI)
LeBron James can leave Miami with his head held high. (USATSI)

 
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