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Akron says LeBron James never really left
Although his exit in 2010 hit Cleveland hard, many Akronites say his 'return' is not really a 'return' -- and it's not surprising either way

Kabir Bhatia
James Warner (left) is director of the LeBron James Boys & Girls Club in southeast Akron. Brian Brown is a student at LeBron's alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary. Both say the four-time MVP stayed involved in Summit County, even while living in Miami
Courtesy of K. Bhatia
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It's been a love fest in Akron today as LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. And as WKSU's Kabir Bhatia reports, it’s very emotional for the four-time MVP and for his hometown.
LISTEN: Did LeBron really leave Akron in 2010?

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In an emotional essay to fans on, LeBron James says the time away was tough for him, and his heart remained in Northeast Ohio after he left the Cavs for Miami in 2010. He specifically mentioned the Boys & Girls Clubs, saying, “I was leaving something I had spent a long time creating.”

James Warner is director of the LeBron James Boys & Girls Club in southeast Akron, which was built with some of the proceeds from James’ 2010 television special announcing he was leaving Cleveland.

"When people say that he was gone -- I can't tell you that he wasn't gone because he came here. And visited the kids here. He was very concerned about their education. Very concerned about his club site.

"So I don't think he's ever left. It's nice that he's coming back to play basketball here, so we can enjoy that. (But) regardless of where he plays basketball, what he's provided for these boys and girls in this community has been amazing. So they have a safe, fun place to go.

“To the kids here, Jordan is the shoes. But they know LeBron James as the best basketball player on Planet Earth.”

Akron is special
Brian Brown is one of those kids at the center, and also a senior at James’ alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary.

“Him coming back is what the community needed. I feel like when you’re from a place like Akron, that you’re always going to come back because we are special; we’re a special town. So with LeBron coming back, it wasn’t a surprise to me. LeBron is a great man. He always gives back. He always tries to find ways to enrich the community.”

LeBron’s continued ties to Northeast Ohio were laid out in the Sports Illustrated essay. James says he wants to raise his soon-to-be-three children back in his hometown. Plain Dealer sports reporter Terry Pluto, who has covered James since he was in high school, is not surprised.

“Because from the outside, people say, 'You're picking Cleveland and Akron over Miami? Are you out of your mind?! That makes no sense.' I think after he moved away, he missed this area more than he ever imagined. And that's true of a lot of people from Northeast Ohio.”

The move also did not surprise LeBron’s former coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary, Keith Dambrot, who was on a recruiting trip for the University of Akron when the news broke.

“He hasn't really changed a whole lot. He's always been a good person. He's always been team-oriented [and] business-oriented. He just made a business decision that he felt he had to make. And now he's coming back to try to give back to this community, which is a great thing.”

Fans hope that includes a championship -- or six. Attendance at The Q will likely spike. Television ratings increased eight-fold during James’ first stint here, from 2003 to 2010, then dropped by more than half when he left for Miami.

Pluto expects the Cavs’ win-loss record will dramatically improve with LeBron’s return. But in his essay, LeBron cautions, “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned.”
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