LeBron Welcomed Back to Ohio With Massive Homecoming Rally

An Estimated 30,000 Fans In Akron Turned Out to Celebrate James' Return

August 8, 2014, 9:03 PM

— -- LeBron James was welcomed back to Ohio by a stadium full of screaming fans at a lengthy homecoming rally in Akron tonight.

"I swear I missed y'all! I swear, those four years I missed that home cooking!" he said.

The basketball star walked into the University of Akron stadium shortly after 9:00 p.m. holding his pregnant wife Savannah's hand while flanked by their two sons, LeBron Jr and Bryce.

"I feel like a musician right now. I felt like I was going to sing or rap or do something right now coming out into this crowd," he said.

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He spent much of his speech thanking the LeBron James Family Foundation and urging the thousands of kids in the stadium to participate in mentorship programs.

"This isn't about me, this isn't about Akron, this isn't about Cleveland... this is about these kids," he said.

"I'm not just a basketball player... I'm much more as a role model, as a leader, as a father, a husband, a friend."

At the end of his remarks, he said that people told him to make whatever decision he wanted to make himself happy but that wasn't enough for him: "I thought about it and I said 'Hell no, I'm (going to) do what makes my city and my state happy.' I love you, I'm back."

The Friday night event came nearly a month after he announced that he would be returning home to Ohio.

From the general manager of the Cavaliers, the mayor of Akron, the coach of his high school basketball team and the president of the University of Akron all spoke at the welcoming ceremony and Skylar Gray played her hit "Coming Home" just before James entered the stadium.

The homecoming at InfoCision Stadium is just one of the ways that the Cavaliers are currying favor with their fans. Shortly after James announced his return, the team confirmed that they will not be raising season ticket prices.

PHOTO: Fans wait in line to enter InfoCision Stadium for the LeBron James homecoming event
Fans wait in line to enter InfoCision Stadium for the LeBron James homecoming event, Aug. 8, 2014, in Akron, Ohio.
Tony Dejak/AP Photo

The celebratory hoards, many of whom waited for hours to get a seat at the event, mark a dramatic turn from four years ago when Cavaliers fans burned his jersey and started riots when he decided to leave for Miami.

The fans weren't the only ones to react poorly: Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert posted a shockingly harsh open letter to the team's "former hero" on the night that James announced his move "with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up."

Now, the 29-year-old superstar has said that he is happy to move past the bitterness and come back to the place where he once belonged.

"Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart," James wrote in his essay for Sports Illustrated announcing his latest decision.

"If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently, but I’d still have left. Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids."

"I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when."

James -- whose personal tagline touts his Ohio roots by saying he's "just a kid from Akron" -- started his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers as the first draft pick in 2003.

He stayed with the team until 2010 after declaring free agency and announcing his move to Miami in a highly publicized ESPN special "The Decision." He stayed with the Heat until becoming a free agent at the end of this past season.

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