LeBron James officially reclaimed his kingdom on Friday night.
John Harper of Cleveland.com reported earlier in the day that around 30,000 fans were expected to pack the University of Akron's InfoCision Stadium for a homecoming ceremony celebrating James' return to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Chris Fedor of the Northeast Ohio Media Group snapped a photo of the enormous crowd inside the stadium before things got underway:
Spencer Davies of the Akron Beacon Journal and WKYC in Cleveland provided snapshots after LeBron arrived:
You couldn't help but to be reminded of the massive celebration the Miami Heat held after forming their "Big Three" of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The night became famous for its over the top nature and LeBron's proclamation that the Heat were gonna win "not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven..." NBA titles.
The atmosphere around InfoCision Stadium was much more low key and personal. Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal spoke to a Cavaliers official who assured him that Cleveland wouldn't be pulling out a ton of theatrics on Friday night:
Asked a #Cavs official if LBJ, Kyrie & Kevin Love would be raised through the stage tonight in a cloud of smoke. Apparently the answer is no— Jason Lloyd (@JasonLloydABJ) August 9, 2014
After walking onto the makeshift stage, James said the night was less about him and more about the local kids from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America who had assembled on the field. One of the first things he said to the crowd was how proud he was to be able to help the younger generation.
LeBron also led elementary and middle school students in a promise that they would help their communities and stay in school, among other things.
The two-time champion didn't stand on much ceremony. He closed out his brief speech with "I love you. I'm back" and dropped the mic, per Tom Withers of The Associated Press:
LeBron ends his speech by saying, "I love you. I'm back."— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) August 9, 2014
Before James appeared, a few video packages were presented, one highlighting the work being done at the local Boys & Girls Clubs and another about how LeBron bought new uniforms for each one of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School's athletic teams.
Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, Cavaliers general manager David Griffin and St. Vincent-St. Mary head basketball coach Dru Joyce were among the many speakers.
Singer Skylar Grey was also on hand to perform "I'm Coming Home":
Skylar Grey currently performing "Coming Home" live at LeBron's Welcome Home Celebration in Akron.— Joe Gabriele (@CavsJoeG) August 9, 2014
It was a night those in attendance likely won't forget.
Not only was Friday James' triumphant return to Northeast Ohio, but it also served as an opportunity for him to answer some of the lingering questions still remaining after he signed with the Cavaliers as he spoke to a group of reporters before the event.
In his open letter in Sports Illustrated, James alluded to how little fans in Cleveland have had to cheer for over the years and how much it would mean for him to be the guy to help break the city's title drought.
During the presser, he said that winning a title with the Cavaliers would be "the greatest achievement of my life," per Turner Sports' Rachel Nichols:
LeBron says if he can win a championship w/the Cavaliers, "it will be the greatest achievement of my life."— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) August 8, 2014
One of the ongoing stories left this offseason is the future of Kevin Love. Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that a deal sending him to Cleveland for Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a 2015 first-rounder is all but a formality. No trade can be done until Aug. 23 at the earliest because of Wiggins signing his rookie deal.
Love was a frequent topic of discussion for LeBron:
I don't know how many times LeBron said the words "Kevin Love" but it was a lot. A LOT.— Bill Reiter (@foxsportsreiter) August 8, 2014
James insisted, though, that bringing in the three-time All-Star wasn't a guarantee of an NBA title, per NBA on ESPN:
"Even if we're able to acquire Kevin Love... it's still going to be a process." - LeBron James on expectations for the Cavs in 2014-15.— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) August 8, 2014
That's quite a different statement from "not one, not two, not three..."
After years of watching their favorite teams come up short time and time again, Cleveland fans have come to expect the worst at almost any occasion. When it was revealed that James' contract only lasted for two years and had an opt-out clause after Year 1, those fans began to reach for the panic button.
LeBron allayed those fears by reiterating that he doesn't plan on leaving the Cavs a second time and the structure of his deal is strictly meant to maximize what he can make in the future, per Fox Sports Ohio's Sam Amico:
LeBron on opt-out in contract: "I don't plan on going anywhere. I don't have the energy to do it again." Says it's a business decision.— Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) August 8, 2014
LBJ also spoke about the new guy standing on the sidelines: David Blatt.
Some wondered if the hiring of Blatt was any sort of signal as to where LeBron's future lie. Would Cleveland bring in an unproven international coach if it was at all confident that James was coming back?
According to Lloyd, the four-time MVP wasn't familiar with Blatt's style at all before committing to the organization and did as much research as he could to learn about his new head coach:
LeBron said first thing he did after deciding to return was go online and learn about David Blatt's offense.— Jason Lloyd (@JasonLloydABJ) August 8, 2014
James also quashed any talk that he might butt heads with Blatt, per Cavaliers play-by-play announcer Fred McLeod:
LBJ says he met Coach Blatt in NY and feels "he will be great" and watched his offensive clips on line to prepare— Fred McLeod (@CavsFredMcLeod) August 8, 2014
You can view the entire press conference below.
The NBA regular season doesn't start for a few months, but Cavs fans are already imagining that championship parade rolling down Euclid Avenue. A sense of optimism is pervading throughout the entire city.
Even if LeBron fails to deliver an NBA title to the franchise, at least Cleveland will get to see him in a Cavaliers uniform from now until the end of his career.