So far, all has gone according to plan since LeBron decided to return to Cleveland

June 15, 2014:

It’s the waning hours of the evening; just moments earlier, the San Antonio Spurs completed their unprecedented romp through the NBA Finals, defeating the Miami Heat in 5 games. They outscored Miami by 14.0 points per game throughout the series, an NBA Finals record. And yet in Cleveland, Ohio, some 1,450 miles away, the city is abuzz.

November 27, 2001:

USA Today names high school sophomore LeBron James to the All-USA Boy’s Basketball Team, making him the first sophomore to ever receive the honor. James, the Akron, Ohio native, was also recognized as Ohio’s Mr. Basketball following his sophomore season in which he led St. Vincent-St. Mary’s to their second consecutive state championship.

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February 18, 2002:

LeBron James graces the cover of Sports Illustrated and is officially declared “The Chosen One.” The freshly-turned 17 year-old becomes a national sensation overnight.

LeBron was crowned “The Chosen One” by the age of 17

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February 8, 2003:

Returning from a suspension for accepting athletic wear that violated Ohio High School Athletic Association code, LeBron pours in a career high 52 points. A previous St. Vincent-St. Mary’s victory is forfeited as a result of the violation; this would be their only loss on the season.

James would finish off his high school career with three state championships, three selections to the USA Today All-USA team, and two Gatorade National Player of the Year awards. Surprising to nobody, James declares his candidacy for the 2003 NBA Draft and is the assumed top overall selection.

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May 22, 2003:

The NBA Draft Lottery. With the previous season’s worst record, the Cleveland Cavaliers would have a 22.5% chance of obtaining the top pick in the draft, and with it, hometown and homegrown legend LeBron James. The ping-pong balls bounce in their favor, and the rest is history.

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October 29, 2003:

LeBron James debuts his talents to the NBA. The 18 year-old sets a record for prep-to-pro players in their league debut with 25 points, and also fills out the box score with nine assists, six rebounds and four steals. By the end of his rookie campaign, James had led the Cavaliers to an 18-game improvement over their previous season and had officially justified the hype.

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May 31, 2007:

In game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, facing a veteran Pistons team that had knocked his Cavaliers out of the playoffs the previous season, James provides the most impressive game of his young career. 48 points later, including his team’s final 25 and 29 of their final 30, LeBron had willed Cleveland to within one win of the NBA Finals. Two nights later, Cleveland was headed to the championship for the first time in the franchise’s 36-year history. Although the Cavaliers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs, the unexpected finals appearance convinced the city and its fanbase that a future championship was inevitable with James at the helm.

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It would be 4 years before LeBron would wear a Cavaliers jersey again

May 13, 2010:

With free agency looming, a frustrated LeBron James walks off the parquet floor of the Boston Garden after failing for a third consecutive season to reach the NBA Finals.

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July 8, 2010:

The Decision, possibly the most highly-scrutinized and criticized act in the history of sports. In a television special days in the making, LeBron James pulls the city of Cleveland along for an emotional ride before unleashing these words:

“This fall, I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”

Those iconic words uttered by the sport’s most iconic figure still ring clear today. They set off a chain reaction throughout the NBA and overturned two entire cities in the process. Perhaps most importantly, they changed the perception of LeBron James from a hometown hero to a sacrilegious villain. Jerseys were burned in the streets and a jilted owner “personally guaranteed” that the Cavaliers would win an NBA Championship “before the self-titled former ‘king’ wins one.”

“You can take it to the bank.”

The televised “Decision” left James’ reputation in tatters

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June 21, 2012:

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s guarantee falls short. LeBron James and the Miami Heat win the NBA Championship in 5 games over the Oklahoma City Thunder and James is unanimously named NBA Finals MVP.

James and the Heat would win again the following year and return in 2014 for their fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

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June 15, 2014:

Back to where we began, the finale of the 2014 NBA Finals.

Emotions are mixed in Cleveland, Ohio. For some, watching their former hero fail on the greatest stage brings sadness. But for most it brings optimism, because with the loss – and following a playoff run in which the 2014 Heat looked more like the 2007 Cavaliers than the 2013 Heat – there is hope that James could return home to Cleveland.

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July 11, 2014:

The Decision, Part II.

In stark contrast to the original, James makes no TV special, no public appearance, and no overt display of what Dan Gilbert had just four years prior called “narcissism.” Instead, LeBron goes back to his roots. He publishes a letter in Sports Illustrated exclusively, detailing why he is returning. The maturity gained and lessons learned during his four years in Miami are never more evident than in this essay. LeBron is no longer a kid; he is a man. And he is ready to fulfill what he sees as his ultimate responsibility: “to bring one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”

He understood that it would not be easy. Not like in 2010, when he inherited a star-studded roster laden with veteran champions and fellow superstars in their primes. No. This time, James would join a roster of young and inexperienced talents, and he acknowledged this. “We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process.”

“I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”

As evidenced by this video, Cleveland was ready, too.

LeBron James is back and ready to bring a title to Cleveland

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June 3, 2015…Today:

Tomorrow night is Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals. The game will tip at 9pm ET in Oakland, California, hosted by the Golden State Warriors and 2015 NBA MVP Steph Curry. There’s a lot on the line for the Warriors, a franchise that hasn’t appeared in the NBA Finals in 40 years. But there’s even more on the line for their opponent. Particularly, one of their opponents.

LeBron James was true to his word. He accepted the challenge and came home, lifting a listless franchise mired in four years of disappointment and disarray from 33 to 53 wins in just one season. He was wrong about one thing, though.

For the fifth consecutive year, LeBron James will lead his team into the NBA Finals, and this time even he didn’t see it coming. Especially not with Kyrie Irving on a bum knee and without Kevin Love altogether.

In fact, this 2015 Cavaliers finals team looks uncannily similar to the Cavs team that made the finals eight years ago. According to Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight, since 1985, this 2015 Cavaliers team led by LeBron James is the 9th least talented team to reach the NBA Finals (the 2015 Warriors are, by contrast, the 14th most talented Finals team).

Removing LeBron from the picture and looking at the supporting casts of all these teams to reach the NBA Finals since 1985, the 2015 Cavaliers look even more abysmal. In the last 30 years, of the 60 teams to reach the NBA Finals, just four teams have a negative Weighted Plus-Minus rating when removing their top player from the equation.

The second lowest? The 2007 Cavaliers at -0.2.

The third lowest? The 2015 Cavaliers at -0.1.

Of the previous 60 teams that have competed for an NBA championship, LeBron James has led two of the three weakest supporting casts. For comparison, his Miami teammates’ plus-minus without James in the equation come out to +5.1 (2011), +4.1 (2012), and +2.7 (2013).

Once again, LeBron James has put an average team onto his broad, tattooed shoulders and carried them all the way to the NBA Finals. He knew winning the NBA Championship this year would be a challenge. He was the very first to admit it. But as he lies in bed tonight on the eve of the 2015 NBA Finals, I guarantee that he will not be thinking about these numbers. No, instead LeBron will be focused on one thing and one thing only: bringing a championship home.

LeBron knows there is unfinished business after leading the Cavaliers back to the NBA Finals