If you are from northeast Ohio and are a Cavs fan (you should be) like me, then you might be fascinated by the route that LeBron James has taken to get himself, the Cavaliers, and the city of Cleveland to the point that it’s at now. From state championships and Sports Illustrated covers to MVP’s and gold medals. From the burning of jerseys and seething hatred to the renewed adoration and unlimited hope, the journey that LeBron has taken this city on has been one of a kind. Here is a brief look at that journey:
JUST A KID FROM NORTHEAST OHIO
The attention that LeBron was given in high school was, and probably still is, unprecedented for any athlete of any sport. He led St. Vincent-St. Mary high school in north Akron to three state championships, won three Mr. Basketball awards, and for those who saw him live, he made sure they got their money’s worth before the game even started. His team was a spectacle. Their high school gymnasium became useless other than for practice because it wouldn’t accommodate the crowds that came to see him play. All of northeast Ohio knew that something special was going to happen with LeBron James, but nobody at the time imagined that it would have happened at home.
Click next to see LeBron’s first years with the Cavaliers.
THE EARLY YEARS
James was drafted in 2003 by the Cavaliers to play for a city in his home state of Ohio. The Cleveland Cavs win total more than doubled in LeBron’s rookie season, but it was still only good enough for ninth in the Eastern Conference. LeBron would hold off Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh to win the Rookie of the Year award, averaging 21 points, six assists, and five rebounds. He finished that season at 19-years-old, and fans were more optimistic about the Cavs future than ever. The team would win 42 games in his second season, but miss the playoffs again as the ninth seed. The improvement wasn’t enough for Head Coach Paul Silas to keep his job, who was let go with 18 games left in the regular season albeit having a strong relationship with LeBron.
Next, we look at James’ next step in his career.
FIRST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE
Mike Brown was inserted as Head Coach in LeBron’s third season, and James was finally able to lead the team into the playoffs after winning 50 regular season games. LeBron averaged 31 points, six assists and seven rebounds and won his first All-Star Game MVP award. In his first three years in Cleveland, he took home a Rookie of the Year and an All-Star Game MVP award while improving his team’s record from 17 wins to 50. LeBron would lead the Cavs to a 4-2 first round win over budding rival Washington, hitting two game-winning shots in the process. The Cavs lost to Detroit in seven games in the following round, with LeBron again leading the way and almost single-handedly dethroning the Eastern Conference-dominant Pistons.
On the next page, we look at how LeBron took the Cavaliers to another level in the playoffs.
FIRST PLAYOFF RUN
LeBron and the Cavs again won 50 games in the 2006-2007 regular season, and with their experience from their first playoff series win since 1993, would race past Washington, New Jersey, and Detroit on their way to meeting the Spurs in the Finals. LeBron provided the highlight of the season, and maybe of his young career, against Detroit. In pivotal Game 5 on the road, LeBron scored 48 points, including the Cavs final 25. He scored all 18 Cavalier points in the two overtime periods and there was nothing that the defensive juggernaut Pistons could do about it. It was his first statement game on one of the NBA’s biggest stages. He made well-defended shots, falling away, from all angles, everywhere on the court. He tied the game with a dunk in the first overtime, then hit an acrobatic game-winning layup to seal the win in double-overtime. The Cavs closed out the Pistons in Game 6, sending them to the NBA Finals. They were humbled by the veteran Spurs, losing the championship round in four games.
We look at LeBron’s best seasons as a Cavalier on the next page.
In the three years following the 4-game sweep in the Finals, LeBron would win another All-Star Game MVP and two consecutive league MVP trophies. His individual success equated to great team success, but only in the regular season. Despite winning 66 games in the 2008-09 season and 61 in the 2009-10 season, Cleveland could not find success in the playoffs. They would lose to eventual Champion Boston Celtics in 2008, the Orlando Magic in the Conference Finals in 2009, and to Boston again in 2010. The combination of great individual performances and the absence of playoff success would lead to the end of LeBron’s first stint in Cleveland.
On the next page, we look at a day that all Of Ohio dreaded for over a year.
The 2010 free agent class was the most hyped opportunity than any NBA team had ever had to make their team legitimate immediately. LeBron was at the head of that class. The most sensible of Cavs fans did not blame LeBron for leaving. They did blame him for doing it on national television in front of the world without notifying the team or his teammates of his choice. The least sensible of the Cavs fans set their jerseys ablaze on the news. Most fans fell somewhere in the middle.
This was LeBron’s first disaster. Taking all personal emotion out of the equation, this still was a terrible move that he has since admitted to. The Cavs immediately went back to the gutter, Dan Gilbert wrote a stupid letter in response, and the Miami Heat became the most hated team in the history of the NBA the following year. Icing on the Cavs cake: Big Z went to Miami too.
With LeBron no longer a Cavalier, we look at his experience with his new team on the next page.
FIRST YEAR IN MIAMI
As difficult as The Decision was to handle, some solace came when the Miami Heat struggled in the early stages of The Big Three era. They started the season 9-8, did not look cohesive, and struggled to find chemistry (sound familiar?). LeBron’s return to Cleveland as an enemy happened on December 2nd, 2010. In one of the most anticipated games that the city has ever seen, LeBron would snub the boos by heading to the locker room for pregame introductions, score 38 in a blowout win, all while talking trash to our bench of his former teammates. The Cavs would plummet from there, finishing the season with just 19 wins. James and the Heat would continue to improve, reaching the Finals, but losing to the Dallas Mavericks, who displayed better team-basketball in the playoffs. Cleveland fans celebrated the loss and tried to convince themselves that LeBron had made a mistake about his championship aspirations.
After yet another Finals loss, the next pages takes a look at how James took his game and legacy to another level.
The Heat dominated the Eastern Conference and won consecutive NBA Championships in the next two years. LeBron defeated Kevin Durant and the Thunder in 2012 following an absolutely dominant overall game over the five-game series. James followed it up by ousting Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan in an epic seven-game series in 2013, where the San Antonio Spurs allowed James to shoot jumpshots all series long. He would win two more MVP trophies in both championship seasons and be named Finals MVP in both as well. In the process, James showed a different level of maturity and evolved all-around game that left Cavs fans wondering if they had missed out on the prime of his career. Meanwhile in Cleveland, The number one draft pick in 2011 Kyrie Irving won Rookie of the Year and showed potential to be a player that helps change the tide of the franchise.
On the next page, we look at LeBron’s fourth year with the Heat.
Alex Sabri ·
ANOTHER FINALS LOSS
In one of the most well-played NBA Finals series ever, the San Antonio Spurs would dismantle LeBron and the Heat in 2014 on their way to a fifth championship. At this point, he had been to the NBA Finals five times, winning twice. LeBron would begin to realize how amazing it felt to be a champion, and wanted to one day share those moments in his home-state and hometown. He wanted Cleveland and Ohio to feel that same excitement and sense of relief. Also, with an aging roster in Miami, LeBron had even more incentive to join the young Cavalier’s squad. Although close friend Dwyane Wade petitioned for James to stay in Miami, LeBron would take his time with this decision.
After much deliberation, we look at James’ Decision: Part II.
Cleveland deserved this. The city had seen enough professional sports misery. Their very own had decided to come home. The letter that LeBron wrote via Sports Illustrated declaring his intention to not just play for the Cavs, but to come home to people and a place that he had always loved, was enough to bring fans to tears. It was, without question, a “remember where you were” moment for Cavs fans.
I was in my car, listening to Colin Cowherd and guest Mike Dunleavy Sr. discuss the very topic of where he may end up. Cowherd interrupted Dunleavy as the story was dropping that very moment. He began reading the essay. With a knot in my stomach, I started to understand what was happening. Like most Cleveland fans, I had learned how to guard my emotions, so I wasn’t sure if I should believe it. It started to make more sense when he started naming players that he was anxious to play with in Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and Anderson Varejao. LeBron James’ decision had caused people’s phones to blow up as the whole nation was abuzz. It finally became real: LeBron was back. And so too were the Cavaliers.
On the last page, we look ahead to James’ future with the Cavaliers.
THE JOURNEY CONTINUES
LeBron came home to the Cavs, and with him came a new attitude, new coach, new power forward, new veteran teammates with rings, and some lofty new hopes for the team and the city. What isn’t new, and never will be, is the fans. As miserable as the first decision was, the fans never left the team. There were some rough times, but there always will be in The Land. And while we aren’t in love with everything LeBron does, he makes the city a better place, and that makes him one of us. Here’s to the next chapter of LeBron’s book, which will hopefully include a championship banner and a parade in Cleveland, Ohio.