AKRON, OHIO – On a night packed with emotion and inspiration, LeBron James saved the biggest moment for last.
Surrounded by family, friends and fans in a city welcoming him home, James delivered a line he’s been waiting to say for four years.
“I love you,” he told the crowd of nearly 25,000. “I’m back.”
James then dropped the microphone and left the stage as fireworks exploded about InfoCision Stadium, illuminating the Akron sky.
James is home, and he’s not leaving again.
The NBA superstar, who re-signed with Cleveland last month, said Friday night he intends to play the rest of his career with the Cavaliers, the team he returned to after winning two NBA titles in Miami.
When he signed a two-year, $41 million contract that included an option after one year, there was speculation he would one day test free agency again. The contract made Cleveland fans nervous, but they can now relax.
“I don’t plan on going nowhere,” James said. “I don’t have the energy to do it again.”
James, who returned to Northeast Ohio after four seasons with the Heat, was welcomed back with a homecoming event fit for a King.
Fans waited in line for six hours for a prime seat for the event on the University of Akron campus, not far from where the 29-year-old James bounced his first basketball.
There were tributes during the two-hour ceremony, highlighted by recording artist Skylar Grey signing her hit “I’m Coming Home,” a song that became the unofficial theme of his return to Cleveland.
James was back and the city that helped raise him welcomed him with open arms. The welcome-home party coincided with James’ annual “I Promise” campaign for area children sponsored by his family foundation.
Although he was playing for the Heat, James said his heart was always home and he realized it was time to return.
“It just hit me,” he said. “Sometimes you just have a feeling. You realize what’s going on and what’s happening. It just hit me.”
During a 15-minute interview session James touched on a number of subjects, including new Cleveland coach David Blatt, the possible addition of All-Star forward Kevin Love, who is expected to join the Cavs in a trade from Minnesota later this month.
“I’m going to be very excited to have him,” James said. “I don’t really care about the 26 (points) and 12 (rebounds). I care about the basketball IQ. His basketball IQ is very, very high. I had an opportunity to spend 32 days with him on the 2012 Olympic team. It’s funny. I always told Kevin Love, ‘You’re very good, man.’ He always thought I was blowing smoke.
“I always told him he was going to be a reason why we won the gold medal, and he played a huge role for us. So I’m looking forward to it. He’s a great piece.”