CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Taxis honked their horns and fans cheered across Cleveland on Friday, when news of the return of hometown hero and NBA superstar LeBron James gave the city its second, much-needed boost in a week.
Three days after the Ohio city once know as “the mistake on the lake” was picked as the likely host of the 2016 U.S. Republican Party national convention, James announced he was coming home to the Cleveland Cavaliers after four years with the Miami Heat.
“Horns are blaring on Lorain Avenue now (and it’s not for the back ups),” Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman tweeted.
Fans in this working-class city of about 400,000 people on the southern shore of Lake Erie, some of whom burned James’ jersey in anger when he left his home state, crowded into local bars, eyes glued to television sets.
“I didn’t think he would come back,” said Pete Pozzuto, a season ticket holder and contractor for the Cleveland Water Department, whose 12-year-old daughter is a huge fan of James and had not watched the Cavaliers since he left.
“Now she is going to be watching it,” he said.
Hans Wolf, 54, who lives in North Canton, said he was excited James and the Cavaliers’ billionaire owner, Dan Gilbert, who denounced the player in a letter posted until very recently on the team’s website, had resolved their differences.
“It says a lot for him to come back like that,” Wolf said.
Between James’ return and the possible hosting of a political convention, Cleveland is hoping for the image makeover it has sought in vain for decades.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened in the city in 1983 and the huge arena where the Cavaliers play and the Republican convention will be held was inaugurated in 1994 with a Billy Joel concert.
Its downtown is experiencing a rebirth that has prompted Forbes Magazine to rank it among the nation’s top 15 emerging downtown areas.
Still, Cleveland is better known for its misfortunes. Its polluted Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969, spurring the national Clean Water Act. A few years later the city defaulted on its debt.
More recently, the horrific tale of three Cleveland women who escaped after a decade of captivity in the hands of a former school bus driver dominated national headlines.
As James’ return sparked hope in Cleveland, 1,200 miles (1,900 km) south in Miami, Heat owner Micky Arison tweeted: “I am shocked & disappointed in today’s news. However I will never forget what Lebron brought us for 4 years. Thanks for memories.”
Miami sports media were buzzing with the news, with shock and regret. “LeGone” announced the website for the popular Miami sports talk radio station The Ticket. Within hours of James’ decision, his face was covered over with black spray-paint in a mural of the championship team in the Wynwood district of Miami.
“Sure it hurts, Heat fans,” wrote Miami sports columnist Josh Friedman.
“But this is a man who is following his heart to return to his home in order to bring a title to an area that hasn’t hoisted a championship trophy in any sport in half a century. How can you hold a grudge against a man for wanting to fulfill that mission.”
Reporting by Kim Palmer in Cleveland, Curtis Skinner in New York and David Adams and Zach Fagenson in Miami; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Eric Beech