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LeBron James' return to Cavaliers sparks celebration in Cleveland, where hope springs at last

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Cleveland Cavaliers basketball fans celebrate in front of the house of LeBron James, in Bath, Ohio, after learning of James' decision to sign as a free-agent with the Cavaliers, Friday, July 11, 2014. The fans tossed powder in the air, like LeBron's pregame ritual. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

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Cleveland Cavaliers basketball fans celebrate in front of the house of LeBron James, in Bath, Ohio, after learning of James' decision to sign as a free-agent with the Cavaliers, Friday, July 11, 2014. The fans tossed powder in the air, like LeBron's pregame ritual. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

CLEVELAND - Cleveland hasn't had this much good news since the first time LeBron James came to town.

First there was the arrival of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel in May's NFL draft. Then on Tuesday, the national Republican Party all but handed Cleveland its 2016 national convention and hundreds of millions of dollars in business.

And on Friday the city landed perhaps the biggest prize of all — the return of its prodigal son. James, the four-time NBA MVP and Akron native who once spurned gritty Cleveland for glamorous Miami, is coming home.

Whatever good karma this long-suffering city built on steel mills and blue-collar labour has coming, formerly downtrodden Clevelanders would surely embrace it. When you've had — and still have — as many problems as Cleveland, you take what you can get.

When word got out that James was bringing his considerable talents back to Cleveland, cheers and beeping car horns could be heard echoing downtown. People stared at their cellphones with expressions of glee and, perhaps, slight disbelief that it was true, King James really was headed home.

The ultimate hope among many sports fans is that James can quench the inexhaustible thirst Cleveland fans have for a championship after a drought of 50 years. It was in 1964 that all-world running back Jim Brown and quarterback Frank Ryan carried the Browns to the city's last championship.

"It's surreal," said a smiling Larry Boothe, 25, who had just purchased a celebratory six-pack. "I never thought it would be a reality."

Lynn Taylor, 51, lovingly mopped ribs, barbecue and Polish boys — the city's signature kielbasa sandwich — with her secret sauce outside her Hough Avenue deli on the east side. She said the GOP convention and James would help bring much-needed cash into the city, although she called James a drama queen for the way he left back in 2010. But she'll take him back.

"Just bring us a championship," she said.

John Dennison drove in from one of the far eastern suburbs to buy a season-ticket package, ready for the season to start and see James play side-by-side with Kyrie Irving, the first overall pick in 2011.

"This is great for our area," Dennison said.

The phone number for the Cavaliers' ticket office boasted of James' return in a recorded message but noted that single-game tickets aren't yet available. The extension for season ticket inquiries, not surprisingly, rang busy.

Dave Nelson, 49, had just been wheeled into the recovery room at Fairview General Hospital in Cleveland after knee surgery on Friday when his surgeon approached. Nelson said he doesn't remember what the doctor said about his knee, but recalled: "He said, 'More importantly, LeBron has come back to the Cavs."

"This is where he can come to be great," Nelson said a few hours later. "You can go anywhere to win championships. But if he can do something like that in this city, he'll be remembered forever."

James' return had Cleveland Indians' slugger Nick Swisher fired up.

"I can't wait to meet him," Swisher said. "A guy like that, with the talent he has, single-handedly that guy can win you a championship."

Before the announcement, Gordon Hewitt, 67, and a buddy were headed into a suburban Cleveland theatre to catch a movie. Hewitt said he hoped that when they emerged they would learn that James had indeed come home. A few hours later, Hewitt said he was elated and that James' heartfelt words about returning to Cleveland had done much to assuage his longstanding resentment.

Hewitt recalled childhood evenings on the front porch with his father listening to radio broadcasts of Indians games. Every year, Hewitt said, his optimistic father would proclaim that this could be their season.

Maybe James' return will seal the deal on such a proclamation at last.

The rebuilding of downtown Cleveland, the forthcoming Republican convention and the addition of "Johnny Football" to the Browns all give Cleveland hope, he said.

"We have a lot of things going for us," Hewitt said, "and we should be proud."

___

Associated Press writer Kantele Franko in Columbus and AP freelancer Steve Herrick in Cleveland contributed to this report.

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