"It was just from one end of the spectrum to the next, from the way it was in 2010," Jones said. "He was relaxed. He was laughing. He was happy."
The signs appeared on Market Street in downtown Akron within hours of when James' letter posted on the Sports Illustrated website Friday morning. The Highland Theater announced, "The King Returns" on its marquee. Walgreens and his favorite burger joint, Swenson's, wrote, "Welcome Home, LeBron." Someone placed a homemade poster saying, "Thank you, LeBron! Akron loves you!" in front of his old high school.
Longtime Cavaliers forward Anderson Varejao was in Brazil when he heard the news.
"I was telling everybody like I was a little kid who found out something he wasn't supposed to find out," Varejao said. "'LeBron is coming back! LeBron is coming back!'"
Fans honked their horns as they drove by Quicken Loans Arena in downtown Cleveland. Those who hadn't burned their old No. 23 James Cavaliers jerseys four years ago dug them out of drawers and put them on again.
Nobody in these parts will ever forget the way LeBron hurt them when he left in 2010, but they started forgiving him a long time ago.
Maybe not as much in Cleveland, which celebrated him but didn't raise him. In Akron, though, he was still family. To this day, he can walk into any store in town and not draw a crowd. He's just LeBron, Gloria's son, the skinny kid who bounced from apartment to apartment as a boy, sleeping on the couches of friends of his mom until finding prosperity and stability through sports.
"I've known LeBron since he was 8 years old," said Vikki McGee, who works for his foundation now. "He's been to fish fries and barbecues in my backyard. I'm just proud he's from the 330."
The healing started in 2011, when Akron embraced him after his meltdown in the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. While the rest of the country seemed to delight in his failure, Akron wrapped its arms around him.
"When you break up with a girl, you don't go on the PA system of the school and say, 'I'm going to break up with you and start going with Suzy,'" said Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic. "But he'd done so much for this community in ways that most people don't even realize. We had to stand behind our guy."
Despite some public pressure to remove signs in Akron that proclaimed, "Home of LeBron James," Plusquellic insisted they remain.
"I had people mad at me for rooting for LeBron," Plusquellic said. "I'd go to a sports bar and it was horrible. But it's just life and how it unfolds sometimes. He made a decision that a lot of people make. They leave their hometowns. But he had done so much, and he continued to do things for Akron. I think that was the right way for us to handle this."
The common narrative goes something like this: In 2010, Miami Heat president Pat Riley put his five championship rings in front of James on a table, like, Come with me if you want to win some of these. In 2014, with two championship rings of his own, James met with Riley, and his stance was like, Tell me again why I still need you?