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James brings his presence to the Browns

8/7/2014

BEREA, Ohio -- A city that welcomes its feel-good moments like a child hugs a teddy bear got one Thursday -- even if it was largely symbolic.

When LeBron James walked into the Cleveland Browns' training camp practice Thursday, it showed the new feeling in the city by the lake that used to be called dreary. James can't fix every problem or erase every need. But he does bring excitement and buzz and contribute to a feeling that, perhaps, things are changing in Cleveland. On the same day James was present to watch the Browns and Johnny Manziel, the Indians announced a glittering renovation of a ballpark that's already beautiful, and word broke that Kevin Love would be acquired by the Cavs to join James and Kyrie Irving.

Amazingly enough in a city that sometimes waits for the next catastrophe around the corner, the sun was also out.

"Stuff like this doesn’t happen here," said Donte Whitner, a native of Cleveland. "That's why it's time for a change."

This is a city that has been kicked, joked about and laughed at. Six months ago it was the city that James left and the home of the football team that couldn't win. Now it's a city that has a baseball team coming off a playoff appearance, a team with Manziel and some buzz and a team with James -- and presumably Love, the emotion and the guy.

"There’s a lot of excitement," Whitner said. "I think we pretty much deserve it. A lot of people kick us around and talk a lot of trash about us, but we deserve [the excitement]. Hopefully we can put some wins on the board, the Cavs can put some wins on the board, the Indians can put some wins on the board, and everybody can have a happy time."

Team-to-team momentum is an easy thing to talk about but it's not easily accomplished. If it were, the Cleveland teams would have won when James was with the Cavs the first time.

But James' return and the drafting of Manziel does create a different mood -- and it's tangible to those who lived through the myriad feelings of James' departure. Before he left for the Miami Heat, there was a hope he might want to be a part of bringing competitive and financial success to Cleveland via his athletic ability and his business acumen. That hope has come to life now that he has chosen to return. Love would not even be in the conversation without James. Nor would Ray Allen. Nor would the possibility of three or four Hall of Famers on the same team.

The Browns hope that Manziel can generate the same vibe -- though he has a much longer way to go, starting with beating out Brian Hoyer this season. In another important way, though, James could have a tremendously positive effect on the Browns' young quarterback.

Manziel drew the attention of the nation and the ire of his front office for his offseason shenanigans. They were not illegal and he was doing nothing wrong, but the perception generated was not positive for the quarterback or the team. James and Manziel are friends, with James' good friend Maverick Carter handling Manziel's marketing. If anyone has handled the attention and hype and hoopla, it has been James. He's had as much fun as anyone, but he is not a social-media regular like Manziel.

James understands his role; one reason he didn't speak to the media Thursday no doubt was because he didn't want to upstage his team or the "Welcome Home" event at the University of Akron on Friday. His letter that he was returning to Cleveland spoke to his desire to accomplish bigger things in Northeast Ohio.

His advice to Manziel on how to handle the spotlight could be invaluable.

It also would be one tangible way that James’ presence could have an impact beyond basketball.