JUDY WOODRUFF: And for more on that surprise we just talked about from Cleveland’s hometown star today, we have Jeff, and he is back with that.
JEFFREY BROWN: Four years ago, Cleveland Cavalier fans were torching LeBron James’ jerseys after the Akron native and the team’s all-time leading scorer announced he was leaving for the Miami Heat.
LEBRON JAMES: I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.
JEFFREY BROWN: A high school phenomenon, the Cavs had made LeBron the NBA’s number one pick in 2003, and he skyrocketed to stardom, carrying Cleveland to the NBA Finals in 2007, before losing to San Antonio.
In Miami, James joined with fellow stars Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
LEBRON JAMES: We believe we can win multiple championships, if we take care of business and do it the right way.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JEFFREY BROWN: The so-called big three did just that, taking Miami to the finals four straight years and winning two titles. After losing this year to San Antonio, James opted to become a free agent. And today came word that the 10-time all-star is heading home.
In a personal essay published on SportsIllustrated.com, he wrote: “My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”
And with that, heartbreak turned to euphoria for Cleveland fans.
MAN: The King is coming home.
JEFFREY BROWN: At the Cavaliers’ ticket office this afternoon, the extension for season tickets rang busy.
And we’re joined from Cleveland by sports reporter Glenn Moore. His works appears The Plain Dealer and other publications. And here with me is Kevin Blackistone, sportswriter and commentator for ESPN. He’s a professor of sports journalism at the University of Maryland.
So, Glenn Moore, really? All is forgiven? What’s the mood there today?
GLENN MOORE, Cleveland.com: It’s a celebratory mood here in Cleveland.
I never would have thought driving downtown, I would see LeBron James in a Cavs uniform on the side of a billboard, on the side of building ever again after what happened four years ago, him leaving. That’s the sights and sounds today is yelling and screaming of joy, and dusting off the LeBron James jerseys and putting them back on, the 23.
They’re going to have to buy new ones, number six, but a lot of people wearing number 23 and celebrating here in Cleveland.
JEFFREY BROWN: I don’t know if you were able to just hear the discussion with Mark and David just now, talking a little bit about the impact on Cleveland. But how important is it to the city, the psyche and also the economy?
GLENN MOORE: It’s a huge impact.
Obviously, downtown, people want to come downtown. They have a reason to come downtown, new casino by Dan Gilbert, the Cavs owner. He brings in LeBron. It’s going to be sold out. You mentioned it in the opening. Tickets are going off like hotcakes, and people want to come downtown and enjoy the city.
And what better attraction than LeBron James, a winner, here in Cleveland? The Browns, Johnny Manziel has been a news item for the last couple months. The Indians made the playoffs last year. It’s time for the Cavaliers to step up. And who better to have on your side than LeBron James?
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Kevin Blackistone, one player so important to a city, but also to the league.
KEVIN BLACKISTONE, University of Maryland: Oh, absolutely, and particularly to the players who he represents.
I mean, four years ago, what LeBron James did was flip the script. For a long time, owners had thought that players would only follow the money, and they had locked them in. They had really restricted their free agency through a lot of different things that they had done with the collective bargaining agreement.
LeBron James changed that. And he continues to threaten that agreement.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, explain that a little bit, because all of this is taking place within this cap, salary cap…
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Right.
JEFFREY BROWN: … that teams must abide by. And so everybody was waiting to see where LeBron would end up under that cap.
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Right.
Stars like him, they can make most of their money when they become free agents and they are able to seek employment elsewhere, can make most of their money with the team that they’re with. LeBron James left for less money, so he changed the dynamics of that CBA.
Not only did he leave for less money, but the other thing that he’s challenging here is that there’s also a luxury tax that owners have to pay any time they want to go over the salary cap and try and create the best team that they can. And so they kind of keep each other in check. And once again, that’s something I think LeBron James has been challenging.
And he’s been a very loud critic behind doors of the financial structure of the NBA and how it benefits owners and doesn’t benefit players as much.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, and, Glenn Moore, the Cavaliers had to work within that structure to make some room to bring LeBron James in. So this is very much part of the picture there, right?
GLENN MOORE: Yes, I mean, they made a three-team tried to get enough cap space for LeBron to come back.
And it wasn’t more about money with LeBron. It was about coming home to Northeast Ohio, coming home to people he’s familiar with. I have heard that in Miami he wasn’t extremely happy. Yes, he was winning, but he wanted to be home with his family at a full-time basis.
And his friends here in Akron, in Cleveland, the connections, he missed having that. And the chance to come back home for a little bit less money, but with a core of young guys here in Cleveland, it’s a perfect fit for LeBron to come back, the perfect time for LeBron to come back, and he’s ready to bring a championship here to Cleveland.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Kevin, this is interesting, because this is a guy, anybody who follows sports has followed him since he was in high school.
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Exactly.
JEFFREY BROWN: And at such a high level. And it is about money, but it always is about his own psyche and his own, well, in this case, desire to go home.
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Yes. It’s self-determination.
And I think that’s ultimately what free agency is really supposed to be all about. And, in LeBron James, I thought it was really interesting. A few years ago, there was a documentary done on him and his high school team. And it happened to premiere right here in Washington, D.C., at the Silverdocs Film Festival.
LeBron came. His teammates came. And I was impressed that night by the way he still had a great deal of camaraderie with his old coach, his old team. He talked about being in Akron. He talked about the state of Ohio in very loving ways. And it made me think about the loyalty that this guy had and the sense of community. And that’s really what he’s exercising.
JEFFREY BROWN: And for the league, now that he has made this move, a lot of other dominoes will fall. Right?
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Oh, absolutely.
JEFFREY BROWN: Everybody was frozen.
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Absolutely. And that is the power that LeBron James holds over the NBA.
Every free agent was waiting to see what he was going to decide to do, where he was going to go, before they themselves made their decisions. And there are general managers and coaches around the NBA as well who were waiting to see what LeBron James was going to do, in order to then go out and fix their rosters to compete with whichever one he was going to be on.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, Glenn Moore, we’re just in our last 30 seconds, but I think I heard you say that he’s come home to bring a championship.
Is that the expectation, that it has to happen right away? They haven’t been a championship team up until now.
GLENN MOORE: It’s been a while since Cleveland had a championship, but I think the mixture of LeBron James with a young core here in Cleveland — I’m not going to say next year, but the next few years, the Cavs should be a regular in the Eastern Conference Finals and the NBA Finals, because you mix in Kyrie Irving with LeBron and the possible trade Kevin Love, that’s a new big three here in Cleveland.
And fans are really excited, and they’re going to be partying all weekend here in Cleveland.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, well, party on and good luck.
Glenn Moore, Kevin Blackistone, thank you both very much.
KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Thank you.
GLENN MOORE: Thank you.
Note: This video has been edited due to web restrictions.