I had prepared myself for LeBron James leaving.
But it wasn’t like the brace-yourself-for-Cleveland-disappointment of the past, when internalizing the specter of inevitable failure seemed like the only way to survive.
No, this was something different.
Occasionally during the Cavs season, someone would ask if I thought LeBron would stay, and I always said no. I wasn’t fully at peace with it, but my head and my heart had come to an uncomfortable understanding.
LeBron had fulfilled his promise. He’d brought a trophy to his hometown. We poured into the streets, exorcised our demons, hugged strangers and embraced victory. That Father’s Day gift and the parade that followed will be something I’ll never forget. Our August 2016 cover with LeBron holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy over his head ranks as one of my all-time favorites. LeBron signing a four-year deal in Los Angeles doesn’t take any of that away.
For me, it’s about more than a championship, though. In his 2014 Sports Illustrated letter, LeBron said: “I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously.”
He’s delivered on that too, whether it’s guaranteeing four-year college scholarships for students who qualify from his “I Promise” program or his refusal to “shut up and dribble” when it comes to issues of civil rights.
There may be no better example than when his I Promise School opens its doors to more than 200 at-risk Akron third- and fourth-graders on July 30. For those kids, it’s a brick-and-mortar manifestation of his #StriveforGreatness mantra.
It’s also a call for all of us to live up to that challenge in our community.
To be honest, I felt a little twinge when LeBron showed up to a Lakers Summer League game wearing purple and gold shorts. I’m not sure how I’ll react when the basketball season tips off in late October. And I have no idea who might deliver this city’s next title.
But I do know this: Just as LeBron always made his teammates better, he made Northeast Ohio better because he believed we could be champions — even when we doubted ourselves. The trophy is why he deserves a statue, but his commitment to greatness should be his legacy.