CLEVELAND (Ohio) • A beaming LeBron James returned home to wild celebrations on Monday, when he stepped off the Cleveland Cavaliers' team plane carrying the long-coveted National Basketball Association (NBA) trophy he had promised to deliver to the city's long-suffering fans.
The mere sight of the Cavs superstar set off loud cheers from adoring fans, who showed up to thank the Finals' Most Valuable Player for leading the team past the Golden State Warriors in a decisive seventh game of the NBA Finals on Sunday.
The players did not address the crowd but James appeared to take a shot at the Warriors, as he disembarked from the plane wearing a blue "Ultimate Warrior" T-Shirt while holding the glittering NBA championship trophy high above his head.
The Cavaliers' plane was given a water salute that saw giant arches of spray shoot over it. It then pulled up along a chain-link fence where thousands of fans on the other side, eager for a glimpse of James and his team-mates, held up their mobile phones to capture a moment for which many had waited a lifetime.
When the door to the plane opened and players started filing out, British rock band Queen's anthem We Are The Champions blared through the speakers.
Many of the Cavaliers players, who made a stop in Las Vegas after winning the title in Oakland, California, hung out on top of the staircase so they could capture overhead videos of the crowd before descending the steps to the tarmac.
The loudest cheer was reserved for James, who had carried the Cavs all season and spearheaded the greatest Finals comeback in NBA history.
As he walked down the steps of the plane, the crowd showered him with shouts of "M-V-P, M-V-P" before breaking into a "Let's Go Cavs" chant.
Traffic was so bad near the airport that many Cavs fans reportedly abandoned their cars in bumper-to-bumper traffic and walked more than a kilometre to the hangar.
There was also a throng of fans on the street leading up to James' house in Akron, Ohio, many holding "Dreams Come True" signs while passing cars honked.
It was reminiscent of the scene two years ago when James - now a three-time NBA champion - announced he was returning to the Cavaliers four years after he left the team to play for the Miami Heat, with whom he won the first two titles of his storied career.
"BELIEVE IT!" screamed the front-page headline of The Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland on Monday, above a full-page photo of a teary-eyed James holding the NBA championship trophy.
Fans will get another chance to salute their heroes as the team go on their championship parade and rally in downtown Cleveland today.
"Oh, my goodness. It's going to be probably one of the biggest parties - I'm sorry, one of? It's going to be the biggest party that Cleveland has ever seen," James said after Sunday's game.
"So if you guys still have a little money left over in your budget, you guys better make a trip to Cleveland and get a little piece of it."