LeBron reflects on Cleveland memories, praises Mitchell after Lakers loss

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After going down 116-102 away from home against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, LeBron James made sure to give his respect to the franchise he called home for 11 seasons.

James was drafted by the Cavaliers as the first overall selection in 2003, carrying them to the NBA Finals in 2007, and then winning two league MVPs in 2009 and 2010 before taking his talents to South Beach.

He returned ahead of the 2014-15 season, taking the Cavaliers to four more NBA Finals appearances, highlighted by the franchise's only championship in 2016 when they came back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors.

James has played against the Cavaliers multiple times since joining the Lakers, but he admitted that the video package his former team played during a timeout in Tuesday's game caught him by surprise.

"A little bit," he said "It's always love coming back here.

"Obviously, the memories I have here will never be forgotten, from the time I was drafted here as an 18-year-old kid, to the time I left, so the reception I got from the fans here, it's mutual for sure."

He added: "That's what Cleveland sports is all about. From the Guardians, to the Browns, to the Cavs – the fans are always going to support and be loud. I wouldn't expect anything less."

When asked if he has been impressed with the Cavaliers since they acquired All-Star Donovan Mitchell through an offseason trade with the Utah Jazz, James said he has been paying close attention for longer than that.

"They were competitive before Donovan got here, but I thought them adding him made them more dynamic," he said. "If you watched them last year, you saw how competitive they were then as well.

"When some of their guys got injured towards the end of the season they slipped a bit and ended up in the play-in game, but they were a good team last year.

"You add an All-Star, a dynamic guard like Donovan, it's automatically going to make a team better."

Mitchell played like a superstar against the Lakers, scoring a game-high 43 points on 17-of-27 shooting, while adding six rebounds, five assists and four steals.

"I mean Mitchell is Mitchell," James said. "He did a great job of penetrating our gaps, making some tough shots all night, and getting into a real good comfort zone. He's a really special kid."

Mitchell also had kind words for James, reflecting on his position now as a leader of the Cavaliers after watching the franchise on television growing up.

"It's crazy – I grew up watching him here," he said. "It really hit for me, that full-circle moment, when I watched him get that standing ovation and they played his intro.

"I just sat there on the stanchion and watched the reception he got – it's incredible. It's well-deserved, he's one of the greatest players of all-time.

"He brought a championship – the only championship – to this franchise. You've got to have admiration for that, and hopefully we can do something similar."

He went on to talk about how he will always view James as a Cavalier.

"There was a level of excellence he brought to the city, the way he's revered as an athlete," he said.

"I think the first initial thought is the Cleveland Cavaliers when you think LeBron – that's no disrespect to the Lakers or the Heat – but when you think of 'Bron, you think of Cleveland.

"He set that precedent. When you look at what he's done here in his career, in two different stints. To be the only team to come back from 3-1, leading that group.

"It's really cool, to be honest with you, to be in a situation where as a kid you're literally watching the games in front of a TV, and now I'm part of it."

The Cavaliers are built to last, and there has always been rumblings that James would end up finishing his career where it began.

But after signing a two-year extension with the Lakers in September, he is tied to Los Angeles until at least the end of the 2023-24 season, when he can exercise his player option and opt out, becoming a free agent once again.

When also taking into account the Cavaliers currently have four players who will be earning max-contracts – Mitchell, Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley – the reality is one would have to make way to accommodate any potential return of the 'King'.