CLEVELAND (AP) Carried onto the floor by an emotional ovation building for years, LeBron James is back where he began.
Introduced to a deafening roar from Cleveland fans, James was welcomed back Thursday night by a city desperate to end a championship drought that's about to turn 50 years old. James came back to try and end it, and his journey is underway.
At 8:08 p.m. all was right in Cleveland again.
That when James, the last starter announced, walked onto the floor in a Cavs uniform for a regular season game for the first time in four years.
Nearly four months since proclaiming "I'm coming home" and shifting the NBA's balance of power, James is again playing in front of family, friends and the Cleveland fans who had their hearts broken when he left for Miami four years ago.
This is a homecoming like no other.
"None of us should take this moment for granted," a relaxed James said following Cleveland's morning shootaround at Quicken Loans Arena. "This is probably one of the biggest sporting events ever. I don't feel it, but I know it is."
A crowd of 20,000-plus fans - with some paying as much as $5,000 for a ticket - packed the Q, which was updated during the offseason with a gigantic, fire-spewing scoreboard to welcome home James. The Akron native came back to his hoops roots hoping to deliver a title to Cleveland, a city that hasn't finished on top in pro sports since 1964.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, the night's best moments came before the game, as James played poorly and the Cavs were beaten 95-90. James had eight turnovers, missed 10 shots and was not in sync with his new teammates.
"I'm glad it's over," James said.
Before taking the floor, James huddled his teammates in a hallway and told them that "tonight is special." He then gave a playful tap to owner Dan Gilbert's son, Nick, before walking onto the court that was his for seven seasons.
The pregame festivities ended with James going to midcourt and performing his "chalk toss" pregame ritual with fans tossing paper confetti along with him.
James, who has won NBA titles and Olympic gold medals, knew this season opener is a little more special.
"I understand how much I mean to this team, to this franchise, to this city and to this state," he said. "It's a different feeling, but I'm still as calm and excited at the same time because it's the first game of the season."
In the hours leading up to tip-off, thousands of fans gathered in the streets outside the arena. This was a party four years in the making.
Across the street from the Q, a 10-story-tall banner of James was unveiled in the same spot where one hung during his first seven seasons with the Cavs. The spot became a symbol of civic pride until that night in July 2010 when James announced he was leaving for Miami. In the hours after his decision, some angry fans burned his jersey and others hurled rocks at a banner that would be removed a few days later.
On Thursday, the new banner - showing James with his arms outstretched wearing a jersey with "Cleveland" where his name would normally be stitched - drew fans who posed for photos the same way they did when James was here last.
Chrissy Pavlik of Wadsworth, Ohio, and her brother, Brad, were among the fans who didn't have a ticket for the game but wanted to be downtown to celebrate.
"I grew up playing basketball and LeBron was always one of my role models, so when he left I was devastated, crying, throwing fits," she said. "To see the banner back, we drove into the city and I was like, `Check it out, dude.' It's so cool. We're very, very happy."
Along East 4th Street, fans wearing James jerseys and broad smiles mixed with patrons lined up to get into overflowing restaurants and bars and a free concert featuring hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar and the rock band Imagine Dragons.
As they filed past, Barry Harris, 55, of Cleveland, was filled with pride. A lifelong Clevelander, he had never seen his city acting quite like this.
"It's amazing," Harris said as his twin brother, Larry, snapped pictures of ESPN's SportsCenter set. "I've been waiting 55 years for this. We got LeBron. We got Johnny (Manziel) Football. We got the Republican National convention coming in two years. We got casinos. It's huge. We deserve this."
James' return has Cleveland fans believing their tortured run of sports misery, which includes a series of close calls with nicknames like The Drive, The Fumble and The Shot, could be over.
James is the one to end the curse.
"It's got to be him," Harris said. "It's got to be LeBron. It was his destiny to come back and finish his career off here. No place else."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Drew Brees overcame a shaky start and threw for one touchdown and ran for another and the New Orleans Saints defeated the Carolina Panthers 28-10 Thursday night to take over first place in the NFC South.
The Saints (4-4) piled up 375 yards to snap a seven-game losing streak on the road that dated back to last November.
Brees finished 24 of 34 for 297 yards and Mark Ingram turned in another solid performance with 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
Brees threw an interception and fumbled in the first quarter before settling down late in the second quarter and leading touchdown drives on four out of five possessions.
The Saints' defense sacked Cam Newton four times and forced two turnovers.
Newton, who spent much of the night under heavy duress playing behind an offensive line without three of its regular starters, was limited to 151 yards passing.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Jameis Winston threw three touchdowns to offset a three-interception start and Dalvin Cook had two long scoring runs to help second-ranked Florida State rally for a 42-31 victory over Louisville on Thursday night.
Florida State overcame a 21-0 deficit for its 24th straight victory, with Cook giving the Seminoles the lead with a 38-yard run with 3:46 remaining.
Out of sorts and on the verge of having its College Football Playoff prospects damaged, the Seminoles (8-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 2 CFP) recovered behind their Heisman Trophy quarterback and Cook, who had a 40-yard touchdown run in the third quarterback.
All of Winston's TD passes were big. He hit Travis Rudolph for 68 yards, Ermon Lane for 47, and Freddie Stevenson for the 35-yard clincher with 26 seconds.
Winston was 25 of 48 for 401 yards to beat Louisville (6-3, 4-3, No. 25 CFP).
ATLANTA (AP) The NCAA upheld its four-game suspension of Georgia tailback Todd Gurley on Thursday night, ending the school's final hope of having its biggest star in uniform for Saturday's game against Florida.
In a statement released Thursday night, the NCAA's student-athlete reinstatement committee denied Georgia's appeal of Gurley's four-game suspension. The NCAA announced the suspension on Wednesday, when it said Gurley accepted more than $3,000 for autographed memorabilia and other items over a two-year period.
Gurley, who already has been held out of two games, will be eligible to return on Nov. 15 against Auburn.
Georgia said Thursday night it was "very disappointed" its appeal for Gurley's immediate reinstatement was denied.
"We believe our case to the NCAA for Todd's immediate reinstatement was strong and compelling," Georgia said in a statement. "However, we now have exhausted all available options and look forward to Todd's return to competition on Nov. 15. The full attention of the Bulldog Nation now needs to be focused on our team and Saturday's important game against Florida."
Gurley will also miss No. 9 Georgia's game at Kentucky on Nov. 8.
When announcing the four-game suspension, the NCAA said it "strongly considered" a harsher punishment. Gurley, a junior, was found to have taken cash from multiple individuals, even though the NCAA said he received "extensive rules education about the prohibition of receiving payment for autographs."
The NCAA said Wednesday Georgia's "due diligence in its investigation" and Gurley's "full disclosure of his involvement in the violations" were factors in not imposing a longer suspension.
The NCAA said Wednesday Gurley must repay a portion of the money to a charity of his choice. He also must perform 40 hours of community service. The organization did not specify how much of the money he would have to repay or a deadline to comply with the rest of his sanctions.
Gurley was considered a leading Heisman Trophy candidate before the suspension. He leads Georgia with 773 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. He has returned a kickoff for a 100-yard TD. He even threw a 50-yard pass - Georgia's longest of the season.
In two games without Gurley, freshman Nick Chubb has 346 yards rushing and three touchdowns in road wins over Missouri and Arkansas.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Bruce Bochy is crazy superstitious. It's a little-known fact about the unflappable San Francisco Giants manager.
Mere mention of anything about a dynasty during the World Series made him uncomfortable. He felt equally uneasy when his name got linked to the best skippers of all-time - those Hall of Famers he well could join someday.
Bochy doesn't have to worry about a jinx now. After winning its third championship in five seasons, the new label for his team looks as if it will stick.
"Dynasty" blared the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday.
The Giants closed it out with a 3-2 win in Game 7 at Kansas City on Wednesday night, sealed by Series MVP Madison Bumgarner's five shutout innings as a reliever this time.
"A lot has to go right. First off, it starts with the talent," Bochy said. "I mean, you need that, which we have. Then you have to deal with a lot of things maybe during the season. Every manager says, `Hey, we're fine, we have a good chance to get there if we stay healthy.' But that doesn't always happen."
In a remarkable every-other-year pattern, San Francisco somehow finds its best form in even years. With new faces and old ones, with castoffs and misfits and some key midseason acquisitions.
Few clubs have captured three championships in a five-year span. The last National League team to do it was the St. Louis Cardinals with Stan Musial from 1942-46, so the Giants are the first of the free-agency era.
The Oakland Athletics won three straight crowns in the early 1970s, and the New York Yankees captured four in five years from 1996-2000.
Still, San Francisco was never considered a favorite or the best team in the regular season any of these times. Twice in this stretch, the Giants missed the playoffs altogether.
After a runner-up finish in the NL West to the Dodgers at 88-74, they took the wild-card card route this time.
On Wednesday night, Tim Hudson became a champion after a 16-year wait and Michael Morse got there following 10 major league seasons.
"It's the greatest group of guys I ever played with," Morse said. "It's a group of guys who believe in each other and the outcome was a World Series victory."
This city has had a football dynasty. So now the storied baseball franchise is doing its best to catch up with the NFL team in town. The Niners ruled in the late `80s and `90s, winning five Super Bowls.
A unique element for Bochy's latest winning roster is the talented crop of homegrown players who made it happen.
There are the big names - Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval. And the emerging ones - Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik.
"You look at most of our team - like Joe, me, Buster, Pablo, Belt, Bum. It's loaded with a lot of good players and a lot of players who are pretty similar in kind of their approach to the game and they're pretty even-keel," said Crawford, the shortstop.
"Pablo's a little bit different but me, Joe, Belt, Bum, Buster, we're all pretty levelheaded at any point in the game whatever part of the season it is, whether it's playoffs or midway through the regular season. We don't really change. That says a lot with how well we've done in the playoffs and the postseason in recent years," he said.
"Nothing's really too big for us," he added.
Eight players have been on all three winning World Series teams: Bumgarner, slugging third baseman Sandoval, Posey and relievers Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Tim Lincecum. Matt Cain, too, but he was hurt this year.
General manager Brian Sabean, longest-tenured in baseball, can't put a finger on why the mix keeps working. He is proud of the core of players who were drafted and came through the system and played such a huge part this time.
"It's a testament to player development and scouting. That's what we all hope for, that you can plug your holes from within and build your team from within," Sabean said. "That's a surefire way to kind of keep things moving forward. It prevents you from having to go into the market, whether it's free agency or more so the trade market."
The Giants survived skids in June and September before winning the wild-card game at Pittsburgh. They then beat Washington in the Division Series and St. Louis in the NL Championship series.
It has started with Bochy and his spot-on decision making, from resting the relievers regularly early in the season so he'd have every one of them for the October run, to going with Bumgarner at every chance.
"But you have to play good baseball for six months, whatever, to get there," Bochy said. "Once you get there, you've heard guys say, `Well, it's a crap shoot,' but you have to play your best ball. You have to have the pitching. That's obvious. But you've got to execute."
For the Giants, it's about every player doing his part and serving a role, because, as Sabean puts it, "We don't have a star system here."
"It's everybody's got to pull on the same chain and everybody's got to be ready to play," he said. "They understand the culture."
Dynasty or not, Affeldt has solved a potential problem at home.
The lefty reliever and Game 7 winner has three young sons - and, now, three championships.
"My three boys now all get to have rings on their finger," he said, "And I'm very happy about that."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Madison Bumgarner was limbering up at Kauffman Stadium this week, getting loose with his San Francisco teammates near the dugout, when Tim Hudson and Michael Morse sneaked up from behind and ruffled the pitcher's long, scraggly locks.
That was way too hairy for Bumgarner. He quickly spun and playfully sparred with the mischief makers.
They were about the only ones who could touch Bumgarner in this World Series.
"Yeah, it was hopeless," Kansas City manager Ned Yost acknowledged.
The 25-year-old Bumgarner capped off a most splendid October and earned MVP honors Wednesday night, pitching five scoreless innings of relief in Game 7 as the Giants held off the Kansas City Royals 3-2.
Moments after he retired Salvador Perez on a foul pop with a runner on third base for the final out, Bumgarner insisted he wasn't worn down. About a half-hour later, he felt a bit differently.
"You know what? I can't lie to you anymore," he said. "I'm a little tired now."
Bumgarner earned a sensational save to go along with two sparkling wins as a starter in the Series. That on top of being MVP of the NL Championship Series and pitching a record 52 2-3 innings in this postseason.
Put it this way: Bumgarner threw two shutouts in October, starting with a win at Pittsburgh in the NL wild-card game. Washington's Jordan Zimmermann was the only other starter to reach the ninth inning this postseason, and he got pulled.
All tremendous accomplishments, but hard to tell from observing or listening to the 6-foot-5 Bumgarner. He shows virtually no emotion on the mound, blowing his nose as if no one is watching, and seems to be the only person unimpressed by what he's done.
Funny thing, the slow-moving lefty was carrying an energy bar with him when he kidded around with Hudson and Morse before Game 6.
"He's such a humble guy, and we rode him pretty good," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
"It's historic what this kid has done," he said. "Really, truly amazing."
After winning the opener with seven impressive innings, Bumgarner threw a shutout in Game 5. And when the Royals forced a Game 7, there was little doubt that the guy called MadBum would be called on to pitch again on two days' rest.
But five innings? Who would've believed that?
"Innings, I wasn't thinking about innings or pitch count. I was just thinking about getting outs, getting outs until I couldn't get them anymore and we needed someone else," Bumgarner said. "Fortunately, was able to get some quick innings and I was able to stay in there."
He gave up two hits, retired 14 in a row, and got 15 outs - that matched how many outs opposing starters Tim Hudson and Jeremy Guthrie combined to get.
Bumgarner boosted his World Series stats to numbers never seen before: 4-0 with a save and an 0.25 ERA, along with three championship rings. In 36 innings, he's allowed just one run and 14 hits, striking out 31 and walking five.
Bumgarner wound up slinging 68 pitches, and finished with 270 innings this season. He went 4-1 with a 1.03 ERA in the postseason - .
Last weekend, former broadcaster and St. Louis Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver paid tribute to the Giants ace.
"It's Gibson-esque, if you will. I know Bob could do that and I saw that from a 60-feet, 6-inch view of him every outing he threw in the World Series. I see the same thing in Bumgarner. I really admire that," McCarver said.
Before Game 7, Jack Morris also praised Bumgarner. Morris knows well about Game 7 - always intense on the mound, he threw a 10-inning shutout in 1991 to lift Minnesota over Atlanta.
"I want to hug him," Morris said near the backstop, a couple hours before game time. "He's my kind of guy."
"He's got the same emotions, he just doesn't show them. He's got a big furnace burning right now," he said.
A lot of stamina, too.
But in this era when pitch counts are so precious, Bumgarner wasn't worried about his arm in Game 7. And if he was OK, so was Bochy.
"In fact, I was staying away from him every inning," Bochy said, "because I was hoping he wouldn't go, `I'm starting to get a little tired,' because there's no way I would have taken him out unless he would have told me that."
Giants catcher Buster Posey said there wasn't much conversation on the bench with Bochy, Bumgarner and pitching coach Dave Righetti, either.
"Not much of anything. I think everybody could see how good he was," Posey said. "They weren't putting great swings on him."
No, they weren't.
"We probably would have won if they didn't have him," Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain said. "But they do have him."
LeBron James struggled from the start in his first game with Cleveland in four years, and the New York Knicks ruined the megastar's emotional homecoming with a 95-90 victory over the Cavaliers on Thursday night. James, who returned to the Cavs and his native Ohio this summer after winning two NBA titles in Miami, finished with 17 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points and buried a jumper with James in his face with 25 seconds left to give the Knicks a 92-87 lead. Kyrie Irving scored 22 and Kevin Love added 19 points and 14 rebounds for the Cavs, who have some work to before they can start thinking about any titles.
One of the NFL's most dynamic play-makers - and personalities - is set to return Sunday, and the rest of the season could go far in determining his future in the league. Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden made it all but official Thursday when he said he has ''every intent'' of starting Robert Griffin III against the Minnesota Vikings. Gruden said Griffin is fully recovered from a dislocated left ankle suffered in Week 2 and that the third-year quarterback took most of the first-team snaps in practice ahead of Colt McCoy, who started Monday night's upset over the Dallas Cowboys.
Drew Brees leapt forward and stretched the ball over the goal line on a fourth-down sneak to give the New Orleans Saints a 21-7 lead over the Carolina Panthers after the third quarter of Thursday night's game. Brees' score late in the third capped a 14-play drive that took more than six minutes while grabbing back momentum after Cam Newton directed a scoring drive that got Carolina back in it after trailing 14-0 at halftime. Mark Ingram's 12-yard run pushed the Saints inside the Carolina 5, though the Panthers stuffed Ingram twice and then Brees couldn't connect with Josh Hill near the back of the end zone to bring up fourth down. Ingram and Jimmy Graham each scored late in the second quarter to get the Saints going after a mistake-filled opening quarter featuring two turnovers by Brees.
Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy's domestic violence appeal trial set for Nov. 17 has been postponed until after the NFL season, a person familiar with the situation said Thursday night. The change could signal the end of Hardy's season - and perhaps his career - with the Panthers. The NFL and the Panthers have said Hardy would not play until after his trial was resolved, although he is still collecting more than $770,000 per week as Carolina's franchise player. The Panthers placed Hardy on the exempt-commissioner's permission list on Sept. 17 after he was convicted in July of assault on a female and communicating threats.
The St. Louis Cardinals have exercised their 2015 contract option on pitcher John Lackey, which is at the major league minimum. Lackey did not pitch in 2012 after reconstructive elbow surgery. The major league minimum next year will be $500,000 plus a cost-of-living adjustment to be determined Nov. 20, which is likely to be $9,000 to $10,000. Lackey, who turned 36 on Oct. 23, was 14-10 with a 3.83 ERA last year with the Red Sox and Cardinals and was 1-0 in two postseason starts for the NL Central champions.