Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio.
That little boy grew up before our misty eyes Friday, LeBron James winning over legions of fans with a 952-word essay that told the world he was returning to Cleveland.
Four years and two NBA titles later, James is going home.
As his message, carefully crafted in conjunction with Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins, was read on sports talk shows and in homes across the country, the reaction in two cities was entirely predictable.
In Cleveland, gleeful cries filled the corridors of the airport after the news of the Akron native's return was announced over the loudspeakers. A billboard featuring James in a Cavaliers jersey went up almost immediately at the corner of Prospect and East 9th. The Plain Dealer designed a special front page showing James thrusting his arms into the air with the headline "Home."
In Miami, a mural depicting James alongside his former Heat teammates was vandalized, with the superstar forward's face blacked out with spray paint.
Meanwhile, the landscape around the league was shifting wildly. Houston traded Jeremy Lin and a first-round draft pick to the Lakers in a move meant to clear salary cap space for Chris Bosh . . . who accepted a maximum five-year contract to stay in Miami.
The Chicago Bulls engaged in a short-lived pursuit of Dwyane Wade, who was believed to be on the verge of remaining with the Heat, while waiting for free agent Carmelo Anthony to decide whether he would pick them over the New York Knicks.
The Lakers essentially acknowledged they were out of the running for Anthony by acquiring Lin and re-signing Nick Young and Jordan Hill, going from Plan A to Plan zzzzzzzz.
James' arrival made the Cavaliers immediate favorites to win the NBA title, according to some oddsmakers, while the Heat's championship odds dropped to 50-1, the same as the middling New Orleans Pelicans'.
But this was much more than a basketball story. It was about redemption for the game's best player, and making the smartest move.
Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids. These past four years helped raise me into who I am.
Even as he sat in a purple checked shirt four years ago and announced he was taking his talents to South Beach and his reputation into basketball purgatory, James didn't look like someone whose heart was fully committed.
He accomplished his mission in Miami even while falling short of the regrettable "Not two, not three . . ." championship boast he made shortly after his arrival.
The Heat made it to the Finals in each of his four years and won a pair of titles, far outpacing the one Finals appearance and zero titles from his seven seasons in Cleveland.
As he blossomed into one of the greatest players in NBA history on the court, James matured off it. He went from dismissive to considerate, insecure to immensely self-assured.
And yet, there was still something tugging at him. Not even Heat owner Micky Arison could quite comprehend it.
"I am shocked & disappointed in today's news," Arison tweeted. "However I will never forget what Lebron [sic] brought us for 4 years. Thanks for memories @KingJames."
I've met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We've talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I've made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?
There was no getting around the letter. It had to be addressed.
Four years ago, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert eviscerated James over his decision to leave Cleveland and delivered, in all capital letters, a guarantee that his franchise would win a title before what Gilbert then described as "THE SELF-TITLED FORMER 'KING'"
The men met Sunday in Miami, according to a Yahoo report, and said their sorries. Gilbert told James he regretted the letter. James apologized for the nationally televised blunder known as "The Decision."
They agreed to contemplate a future together that has vastly more long-term potential than what James left behind in Miami. He will play alongside a young, dynamic point guard in Kyrie Irving and a possible superstar in Andrew Wiggins, unless the Cavaliers decide to include their latest No. 1 draft pick in a trade for Minnesota's Kevin Love.
Cleveland is also trying to surround James with veteran shooters who would make the Cavaliers virtually unguardable.
It wasn't hard to envision James in a No. 6 Cavaliers jersey; all you had to do was log on to his official website and scroll down about an inch to see what the image looks like.
Gilbert was apparently already considering the possibilities.
"My 8-year-old: 'Daddy, does this mean I can finally wear my Lebron [sic] jersey, again?'" the Cavaliers owner tweeted. "Yes it does, son. Yes it does!"
In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I'm ready to accept the challenge. I'm coming home.
James was scheduled to attend the World Cup championship in Brazil on Sunday, delaying his happy homecoming for at least a few days.
Here's guessing that after four years apart, Cleveland won't mind waiting a little longer for its favorite son to return. He's coming home. He's coming home.
Twitter: @latbbolchCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun