Homeward Bound: Lebron James Declares His Return To Cleveland

Lebron James has made a decision: He's returning home to Ohio, to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer has been watching James play since his high school days in Akron, and he speaks to Melissa Block about the reasons behind the decision.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. First they got they got the 2016 GOP convention and now they're getting LeBron James back. Cleveland is clearly the place to be. The city erupted with excitement today after Sports Illustrated posted an online essay by the NBA star, in which he explains why he's leaving the Miami Heat to go back home and play once again for the Cleveland Cavaliers. James began that essay this way, (reading) before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It's where I wanted, it's where I ran, it's where I cried, it's where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. And fans couldn't agree more.

JIM SANFILIPPO: Oh, it's mass hysteria down here. I'm glad that he's coming back home. This city on the rise.

ANTINE OWENS: Welcome home LeBron, let's win some rings man.

HORACE MASON: Get ready to rock Cleveland, this is awesome.

BLOCK: We heard there from Jim Sanfilippo(Ph), Antine Owens (Ph,) and Horace Mason (Ph), celebrating the big news in downtown Cleveland this afternoon. Terry Pluto is sports columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He started watching LeBron James play in the high school gym at St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron and he joins me now. Terry welcome to the program.

TERRY PLUTO: Hello Melissa.

BLOCK: And in your column your saying this makes Cleveland the center of the basketball universe.

PLUTO: Pretty much at least for right now when you have a player who's a four- time MVP, you know, the guy that was no doubt the best part of the NBA and decides to come to Cleveland. All eyes now become on Cleveland in terms of if you're a basketball fan. And secondly I think there's still a lot of shock around the country of why a guy would pick Cleveland over Miami.

BLOCK: And what's the answer to that?

PLUTO: I think it's one of those things you will only understand it if you're from here. And like a lot of my friends who grew up in this area and then moved elsewhere, they are surprised how much they missed it. LeBron in his essay in Sports Illustrated compared his four years in Miami to having gone away to college, which he didn't do And suddenly he's 29-years- old, has two children, a third of the way and really he's making this as a family based decision. Yes, there's some nice basketball elements to it but I can tell you the general motion, the way his heart beat for this area, is so true.

BLOCK: But Terry let's not forget, the level of bitterness and acrimony when LeBron James left four years ago from fans all the way up through Cleveland Cavaliers owner and - who was very publicly angry at LeBron James for his decision. And It was - is all that forgiven now, that just water under the bridge?

PLUTO: I mean, a lot of fans were hoping it was true, afraid it wouldn't be, kind of very torn. And as for LeBron and Dan Gilbert, the owner, according to LeBron's letter, they sat down and they talked it out. Which is - you must do this before he came back or else how could he work for the guy and then, you know, LeBron, I first met him when he was 15 and it was in a high school gym and he was just playing a pickup game and after I came over he sat down next to me. He's eating skittles, he's giggling, you know, it was not exactly an interview for the ages but already we all knew that LeBron was going to be something special. And the thing about LeBron is he is not a big grudge holder, he's a person who that want's his team to like him and likes people to like him. And so, I think this fits into him, he just didn't want to want to carry that burden around anymore. He wanted to come home with his family and I think right now this is one of the more remarkable stories in sports over the last couple of years.

BLOCK: And Terry how much money do you think we're talking about for LeBron's contract with the Cavaliers now?

PLUTO: He starts at $20.7 million, they didn't say how long it was but it goes a couple million after that. So, you know, 100 million, 130 million, who knows, that's how it works in the NBA. But I'll tell you this, you will not lose money when you have LeBron James on your team. Think about all the T-shirts, everything that you could put LeBron James name and number on. Here's the thing, there are a few players in every sport where it almost doesn't matter what you pay them because they bring it back. But right now I just think it's something for the whole area to celebrate and again LeBron - this is one of the biggest sports stories of my lifetime and, you know, I'm almost 60-years-old, been writing sports here for a long time.

BLOCK: Well Terry thanks for talking to us.

PLUTO: OK Melissa.

BLOCK: Terry Pluto, sports columnist with the Cleveland Plain Dealer. And again the news LeBron James is leaving Miami going back home to Cleveland.

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