CLEVELAND — The camera flashed the Cavaliers’ 2016 title banner on the Humungotron (seriously, that’s what they call it) that hangs above center court, the music swelled, and as the announcer said, “He’s just a kid from Akron” 19,000 Cleveland fans erupted.
LeBron James tilted his head back and roared in joy at his All-Star Game introduction — a joy rarely seen from him around the Lakers this season.
"He's just a kid from Akron."
LeBron makes his 18th #NBAAllStar appearance 🌟 pic.twitter.com/oxn7pGdp9U
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 21, 2022
That introduction was just the first step in a night of smiles from LeBron, who also brought the chalk-toss back home.
"Some things never change!"
2022 #NBAAllStar live now on TNT & TBS pic.twitter.com/e4TppqP5r5
— NBA (@NBA) February 21, 2022
LeBron was having fun again — hanging with his friends all weekend in Akron, being back home, and playing basketball freely and without pressure. There was a joy evident in his game and in his smile, a joy that has seemed lacking 2,000 miles to the West this season.
And, when the game was on the line, he demanded the ball then drained the fade-away game-winner.
BRON CALLS GAME 👑 #NBAAllStar pic.twitter.com/oTp6DWJTVV
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 21, 2022
“I could not have dreamt it,” LeBron said of that shot that gave Team LeBron the 163-160 win. “I could not have dreamed of that moment any better than the actuality of what just happened.”
Stephen Curry — a kid from Akron himself — deservedly won the All-Star Game MVP, putting up a 50-spot for Team LeBron and setting an All-Star Game record with 16 3-pointers. The fans in Cleveland booed Curry and his wife Saturday night when they came out to promote their new show. They booed him when he was introduced before the All-Star Game. He was booed when he was introduced as a member of the 75th Anniversary team.
Curry reminded the Cleveland fans exactly why they wanted to boo him, draining 3-pointers and dancing like he did when the Warriors were beating the Cavaliers in the Finals.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 30 for Team LeBron. Joel Embiid made his MVP case in the All-Star Game, too, scoring 36 to lead Team Durant.
It was a game and a night packed with high-wattage star power, yet it still felt like LeBron’s show, his homecoming. He still sees himself as that kid from Akron trying to make good, and he’s comfortable in that role.
“Just hearing the ovation I got from these fans here, they’ve seen 11 years of my NBA career, and they saw four years of my high school career, and some of even saw me when I started playing basketball at the Summer Lake at the A.R.B…” LeBron said. “These guys have followed my journey. So for me to be back here today and for them to give me that welcome, that didn’t only mean something to me, that meant something to my family and friends that are here.”
It was almost an overwhelming night for LeBron, who said he was trying to soak up the moments, such as being part of the 75th Anniversary team and hugging Michael Jordan.
“I can’t believe that I’m here…” was how LeBron described being on stage with the other legends at halftime of the All-Star Game. “Every time they announced another name, I didn’t have the chance to rejoice in the player they had named. It was like Gary Payton, wow, and then J-Kidd (Jason Kidd) showed up, and then AI showed up (Allen Iverson), and then it was D-Wade (Dwyane Wade), CP (Chris Paul) and Steph. I was tripped out.”
Sunday saw a relaxed and smiling LeBron, on the court and on the podium in a way we just have not seen this season as the Lakers have stumbled to a 27-31 record. Back in Akron and Cleveland, LeBron was in his element.
“The joy of just being home — I stayed back in Akron all weekend while I was here,” LeBron said. “Seeing my guys… We’ve never spent All-Star weekend together. Every last one of them was here… having my mom in the building, having my wife and my kids here.
“How much more can a man ask for, really? When you have the opportunity to live this moment, with everybody that has seen you come up… We all spent All-Star Weekend together, and I don’t know if that will ever happen again.
“So, there’s no reason for me not to have joy.”
At least until he returns to Los Angeles, where things are very different.