We moved to suburban Akron in January 2003, just months before LeBron James graduated from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
My teenage sons were 3 and 5 years old when we became Cavaliers season ticket holders during James' rookie year. We were faithful Cavs regulars for eight seasons.
Four years ago, my son, now 16, was devastated when James took his talents to Miami. He still has a Cavaliers' James Fathead poster in his room.
James' house is within walking distance to ours. Our sons went to the same school. My 13-year-old is a bit older, but would chat with and high-five James' son, LeBron Jr.
James Sr. played basketball with the middle school boys when the school opened a new gym. He talked to the children in the halls, often urging them to do well in school. We'd see him shopping at Target or Best Buy, but we would give him his space.
You see, my sons like James. They grew up with James. He's their neighbor. And now he's home.
Friday's announcement that James is coming home to northeast Ohio capped off a spectacular week of Cleveland in the national spotlight. On Monday, thanks to the diligence of hardworking local organizers, the Republican National Committee announced its 2016 convention would be hosted in Cleveland.
The city is experiencing a renaissance and the world is taking note, even if national media is having a hard time embracing it. For those who hadn't noticed, things are indeed hot in Cleveland. A new convention center recently opened, hotels are being built, businesses are moving in, the biotech industry is thriving.
The Cleveland Browns have a hopeful new star and the prodigal son is coming home. The sun has never shined as bright in Cleveland as it did Friday.
As a crowd gathered Friday afternoon in front of Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers and host of the RNC's 2016 convention, residents celebrated.
"Stuff like this doesn't happen to Cleveland," several fans said, repeatedly.
Clevelanders have endured the departure of its athletic stars, the failure to win championships of its teams and the mockery that has come from political and sports analysts about why a political convention or the NBA's biggest star would go to Cleveland.
Yes, Cleveland was heartbroken when James announced his decision to go to Miami. But the city's wrath was never as extreme as the national media played it. Everyone wasn't intoxicated and burning jerseys as the ongoing loop on sports television suggested. We were, however, a city scorned.
Many, if not most, understood the decision but hated the way it was delivered -- especially the people of Akron. But even then, kids bought the Heat jerseys or James sneakers and followed @KingJames religiously on Twitter. Some men, young and old, even bought plane tickets to watch James play in Miami.
Still, James' departure stung. It hurt. It was personal. He had loyalty tattooed on his chest. For Clevelanders, that was supposed to mean something.
Months later, I wrote a personal letter to James that I never mailed. In it, I told him that the choice was his to make but his departure method had made me cringe. The mother in me wished he had gone to The 'Q to shake the hands of the security guards, custodial staff and the kitchen staff and to look in the eyes of Cavaliers leadership while thanking them for unwavering support. I wanted to tell him how much he had bruised our local children. I wanted him to set a better example. I wanted him to know there were still boys in Copley, Bath and Akron who were looking up to him.
But today is a new day. Cleveland is standing proud and tall. It's distinguished by its passion, a passion that outsiders don't always understand and those of us who live here don't always appreciate.
No other city has greater cheerleaders or bigger fans. As political analysts second-guessed this week's RNC choice rather than the selection of Dallas and as sports analysts complained about having to spend more time working in Cleveland rather than sipping mojitos on South Beach, the people who live here have a deeply affectionate relationship with the city. As Rachel Talton, a local business owner tweeted, "It's been an amazing week for our beloved Cleveland. RNC and LeBron. So exciting."
What the world is witnessing is true civic pride. The kind of pride that comes when you believe you've worked hard and someone else has finally noticed. Ours is pride that comes from feeling like someone has finally stood up for you.
On Friday, LeBron James stood up for Cleveland, for Akron, for northeast Ohio.
I never mailed my letter to Mr. James, but I think he has long since gotten the message. Welcome home LeBron.