Let me take it from the top by stating this: I didn’t want LeBron back initially. I wanted to avoid him. The very idea of the Cavaliers pursuing him this offseason appalled me. I didn't want us to seem weak or desperate by trying to sign him. (Seeing how hostile the city was when LeBron left, it was difficult to imagine him wanting to return here anyway.) I feared we would be ridiculed for even attempting to get him back.
Being part of a minority that wanted to keep LeBron out of Cleveland, it was especially difficult for me to see the sheer number of fans that wanted him to return. I didn’t voice my opinion to many people, but I worried that we, as Cavaliers fans, were going to make ourselves seem foolish based on our past reactions. (Such as burning jerseys...) I was even moreso afraid that a tidal wave of negativity would sweep the fanbase and spoil the progress that the Cavs had made if LeBron didn't return. The entire Cavs franchise had worked way too hard to be deflated.
When the Zeller trade was announced, I felt like we could no longer back out. As much as it pained me to see what was happening, we needed to sign LeBron no longer out of want, but out of necessity. The trade eliminated starters from our roster. More than ever it would have been a disaster for Cleveland if LeBron didn’t return. I was scared to see my beloved hometown embarrassed and receive criticism while under a national spotlight.
I was so very bitter these past four years LeBron has been away. I didn't let go of all the anger I had until recently when I was watching one of my favorite sports shows: “All Bets Are Off with Bruce Drennan”. I have been a big fan of Drennan for several years now; I can specifically recall how critical he was of LeBron when he first left Cleveland, by announcing his departure via “The Decision”. Drennan no longer feels that way and was looking forward to LeBron returning. If he could change his opinion in front of a sizable audience, why couldn’t I? Shortly after I heard the news, I admit I was choking up. I put up this anti-LeBron stance for four years only to have it torn down within seconds of him coming back to Cleveland. I read his Sports Illustrated essay and realized how much he has changed; how much more humble he has become. He understood what we went through without him. While nothing can take away the success he had in Miami, he was glad to be home to a place where he can raise his family and contribute to the community that he loves. I was so moved and impressed by his words that I was finally able to make peace with these past four years.
There was a time in the 20th century when Cleveland was the place to be in America—and little by little it's become more like that again. I have been stating for several years now that we have it made here in Cleveland. Each year dawns a new age of progress. All three of our major sports teams are improving, movies are being made about us, the Republican National Convention is coming here in 2016, jobs and new markets are opening here to stimulate the workforce, etc. We are being recognized for what makes us great and not for our shortcomings. Perhaps no longer will we be referred to as “the Mistake on the Lake” or have negative stereotypes about our community. We can become a titanic symbol for the rest of middle America that is struggling. I love Cleveland with every single fiber in my being. Despite being born in Russia, I consider myself a native son here. I’m so very proud of all we’ve accomplished and call this place my home. This is the place to be once again and LeBron has helped spark a city on a mission to reclaim its former glory.
This is about so much more than an athlete returning to a sports team. This is the very definition of revitalization to a region in the middle of the Rust Belt, roaring its way back from a crippling depression. All of our hardworking Northeast Ohio cities (Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Youngstown, etc.) have persevered through thick and thin over the past decades. LeBron himself has said, upon the announcement of his return, "In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have." We stand unified once again; with LeBron comes hope, progress, and most important of all: success.