LeBron James’ decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, announced Friday, “changes everything” in the Cleveland area, Thomas Fladung, managing editor of the Plain Dealer, told Journal-isms by telephone.
“I’m 54. I can’t recall any other story comparable to this. If you grew up in the area . . . This is not some athlete coming home on a retirement tour. He’s 29!”
The Plain Dealer’s website, cleveland.com, was filled with stories about James as soon as the NBA player’s announcement was made.
Fladung said the Plain Dealer was prepared for James’ decision regardless of which way it went. “We had stories queued up,” he said. The news outlet’s three sports columnists prepared alternate versions of their columns, with the appropriate one posted as soon as the decision was announced. As of 12:01 a.m. Thursday, players could officially sign free agent contracts.
A photo gallery was ready. A photographer was at James’ home in Bath Township, Ohio, all morning.
“We’re trying to hit all the angles. We’re trying to reach his old teammates, the folks he grew up with, his old crowd,” the editor said.
“I can only assume this will increase online readership in a way unlike anything we’ve ever experienced,” Fladung said. “The website has been experiencing strong daily readership.”
Broadcasters were equally excited. “WKYC has been live since the announcement broke this afternoon, and — with the exception of NBC Nightly News — will stay live until 8 p.m.,” Michael Malone reported for Broadcasting & Cable. ” ‘We’re going as hard as we can,” says Brooke Spectorsky. ‘There are 20 reporters who’ve not had a break since they came to work today.’
“Spectorsky says WEWS was live for 60-90 minutes after the announcement, WOIO went for three hours, and WWJ stayed in regular programming. WKYC.com features the all-LeBron home page, leading with a giant photo of James and the words ‘I’m Coming Home’ from Sports Illustrated. The site features a story from sibling USA Today about the tight secrecy surrounding SI’s huge scoop. WJW too features ‘I’m Coming Home’ on the Fox8.com homepage, referring to James’ move as ‘Decision 2.0.’ . . .”