LeBron's return elicits no surprise from former coaches, teammate


Akron Beacon Journal

LeBron Watch 2014 or the Decision 2.0, whatever the preference, ended with a bang at approximately 12:17 p.m. Friday.

LeBron James announced via a letter at SI.com - not his website or Twitter feed, which had been expected - that he would return to his hometown and play for the Cavaliers.

University of Akron basketball coach Keith Dambrot told the Beacon Journal moments after the announcement that he wasn't surprised that James agreed to return.

"My gut told me he was coming back. I didn't know," Dambrot said. "I'm happy for him. Because he did things the right way. I think he always wanted to win a championship for Cleveland. I'm happy for him and I'm so happy for the community."

As the days rolled on, James' return seemed increasingly in doubt. When no decision came at rumored times, skepticism set in on social media sites and a backlash appeared to be in the offing Friday morning as rumors flowed.

Then the announcement came unexpectedly just as the James camp reportedly planned, from SI.com and in direct contrast to the Decision, which aired on ESPN on July 8, 2010, when James announced he would leave the Cavs for the Miami Heat.

He took the time to grow up, said Dambrot, who coached James at St. Vincent-St. Mary and won two state titles with him in 2000 and 2001.

"After he had the struggles the first year in Miami, he was phenomenal the following year as a man," Dambrot said in a phone interview. "He took total responsibility, fixed all his weaknesses as a player and he became what he is which is what he already had in him. You don't change much. You're either a good person or you're not a good person and he's always been a good person."

Dru Joyce II coached James to a high school title in 2003. His sentiments echoed his predecessor's.

"He showed a lot of wisdom," Joyce said of the essay on SI.com. "He matured. He understands the things he didn't understand four years ago and that's great."

Joyce said James went through the same maturation process that everyone does, but had to do it in the spotlight.

"He's a more mature LeBron, but not a different LeBron," he said.

Dambrot said the Decision might have been necessary for that process to happen.

"He had to win championships when you really consider it, if he's going to go down as one of the greatest players of all time," he said. "Let's be fair to the guy. If you don't win championships, no one respects you."

Both coaches said they stayed out of the loop regarding James' plans, intentionally deciding that if James wanted them to know, he would have shared the information. Both said they are extremely happy to have him back in his hometown.

Joyce said LeBron offered clues in mentioning Akron and Northeast Ohio any time he could even when in Miami.

"He changed residences, but he never moved," Joyce said.

Dambrot said that he likes having all of his former players around him and his program.

"I wouldn't be the coach of Akron if it wasn't for LeBron," he said.

One of those players, Romeo Travis, who played with James at St. V-M and for Dambrot at UA was pleased with the decision.

"I'm happy as long as he's happy. The only thing different for me is that I don't have to fly to Miami to watch a game. I have to drive 45 minutes to an hour," Travis said.

James' presence enhances not only the Cavs, but also both the coaches' programs. At St. V-M, James already provided the money necessary to remodel the school's gym and locker rooms and he's always had close ties to the Zips because of Dambrot, going so far as holding one of his Most Valuable Player ceremonies there among other things.

"It's going to have an impact on our program. Dru (Joyce III), Romeo (Travis) and LeBron started the tradition at St.-V," Joyce said. "The fire has been burning. This is just going to add more fuel to the fire and keep it burning even stronger."

Dambrot and Joyce agreed that James, who said he's looking forward to helping his new teammates, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters grow, wants to bring the elusive championship that's been missing from Northeast Ohio for 50 years, back here.

But they know that it's also about community.

"He came back to try to help his community win a championship," Dambrot said. "That's why he came back. Really, it's tremendous loyalty to the community. He did what he had to do the last time because he didn't think he could win in Cleveland. He did what he did now because he wants to win the next one in Cleveland."

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