LeBron James‘ return to Cleveland was a love-fest Wednesday night, as Cavs fans showered their former superstar with loud, sustained cheers.
James was appreciative, noting how dramatically differently things are from when he came back as an opposing player for the first time eight years ago.
LeBron finished with 32 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 109-105 road win.
LeBron James' emotional return shows how complicated — and special — his relationship is with Cleveland https://t.co/nbeM9DfZr4
— Chris Fedor (@ChrisFedor) November 22, 2018
“My 11 years I played for this franchise I just tried to give everything I could both on the court and off the court,” James said following the Lakers’ 109-105 win. “I just tried to be the best basketball player, the best role model, the best leader I could be both on and off the floor and lead by example for this franchise. They showed their appreciation and not only for myself, but for my friends and family that were at the game tonight it was a great moment.”
His heartfelt letter announcing his return in 2014 helped. The recent four-year stretch, which included the championship drought ending and an unforgettable parade to the streets of downtown Cleveland, did as well. His departure to Los Angeles didn’t sting as much this time. There wasn’t a feeling of betrayal. No scathing signs.
“I’m a different person. We’re all different from eight years ago, I think, both good and bad,” James said. “But more importantly, this experience has been great. So it’s all about growth and we all have grown from that moment eight years ago. So I kind of leave the past in the past and always focus on the present and see what happens in the future.”
The most memorable moment wasn’t a thunderous dunk. It wasn’t a timely 3-pointer that tied the game at 99 late in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t a typical on-target bullet pass that landed right in his teammate’s shooting pocket. It was the heartfelt video tribute that played during the first timeout.
“I appreciate these fans, just as much as they appreciate me,” James said. “Every single night we stepped on the floor, they always showed their appreciation to not only myself but to my teammates over these 11 years, especially the last four years those championship runs that we were making, so that was just my salute to them for them appreciating what I was able to accomplish with my teammates and coaches along those four years.”