The air of forgiveness surrounding LeBron James’ return might also envelop his biggest fan.
James Blair, arrested when he rushed the court during the Miami Heat’s March 20, 2013 game against the Cavs wearing a “We Miss You” T-shirt, could soon have his nearly 1½-year ban from all events at Quicken Loans Arena lifted. The team is expected to extend an invitation to Blair, a 22-year-old physical therapy student at Kent State University’s Ashtabula Campus, to meet and discuss his status.
If he’s no longer barred, Blair vowed to attend as many Cavs’ home games this season as he can get tickets for, despite his morning-heavy class schedule and the 50-minute drive each way from Ashtabula.
Also spending an inordinate number of hours on the road will be Kent State graduate Josh Raggi, 24. A commercial real estate broker who now lives in Pittsburgh, Raggi and fellow Walsh Jesuit High School graduate Connor Mackovjak started the grass-roots ComeHomeLeBron campaign last year. Blair joined in November as the group spread its message via billboards and passed out free neon green T-shirts at two home games against the Heat.
Even before he received news of a possible Cavs’ thaw, Blair had his strategy planned for a plea to owner Dan Gilbert.
“With all Dan’s been talking about lately, it was a lot about forgiving and forgetting,” Blair said in a telephone interview Monday. “I think he said directly in one of his statements that someone could make 999 right decisions and you shouldn’t judge him based on the one wrong decision. Hopefully they’ve all got a little forgiveness in them and are in a good mood and help get this ban lifted.”
Blair had already contacted some security officers who were headed to Las Vegas to watch summer league play and hoped to speak to the Cavs’ security staff on his behalf. He’d talked to a woman from Michigan who posted a petition for him on change.org.
None of that might be necessary now. In the wake of James’ decision Friday to return to the Cavs, Blair has done several media interviews, including a brief one with Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins, who helped James write his news-breaking essay.
“The last four days have been insane,” Blair said.
His summer clinical finished, Blair was working part-time at his uncle’s fiberglass shop when a message flashed on his cellphone that James was coming back. Blair rushed to his parents’ home to clean up, then drove with his sister and her boyfriend to Cleveland to celebrate with euphoric fans. He did a telephone interview with SportsCenter on the way.
“At first I was taken aback. I was like, ‘Wow, this is really happening,’ ” Blair said. “That ended real quick. It’s hard to explain, there were so many emotions. Knowing all the stuff we’d been doing for the past year had been all worth it. All the people who doubted us can now look back and wished they wouldn’t have said what they did. The fact that Cleveland is going to be back on top and LeBron is literally back home. There was so much stuff going on at once. I was so excited I didn’t know what to do. I knew the best thing was to head to Cleveland.”
The trio stayed until about midnight, then drove home. On Saturday, Blair came back again, this time alone.
Raggi was also there. He was doing a property tour in Pennsylvania, about four hours from downtown Cleveland, when the news broke. When he got the chance, he spent more than 45 minutes on his phone, talking and tweeting with ComeHomeLeBron supporters. The first person he called was Blair.
“I had the SportsCenter announcement as well as all the tweets and four missed calls from James, just voice mails screaming, ‘It happened! It happened!’ ” Raggi said in a telephone interview.
Raggi called the way James handled the announcement “a PR masterpiece.”
“Some people on ESPN Radio were saying it was to get more attention on him,” Raggi said. “But reeling in the whole country and dropping that classy masterpiece, it brought me to tears.
“It still doesn’t feel 100 percent real. I’m so excited now. I can’t wait. It [stinks] being out in Pennsylvania.”
Raggi said the ComeHomeLeBron movement will continue in some form, even if their Twitter becomes a news feed for the Cavs and James. Raggi hopes to participate in the welcome celebration and eventually learn from James or someone in his camp if their campaign played any part in his decision.
Even if it didn’t, Blair and Raggi feel rewarded for their unwavering faith that James would make things right after his hurtful decision in July, 2010.
“We always thought there was a chance, even when people doubted us,” Blair said. “When I ran on the court, there weren’t a lot of people who believed it could ever happen. I was one of the first to come out and think he could still come back and show I would support him if he did.
“I always knew deep down he’d come back and finish his career in Cleveland. For me it was more when he would, not if he would. I was always hoping it would be sooner than later. Come to find out it was.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.