Eight groomsmen in No. 23 jerseys and a groom mimicking LeBron James’ powder toss stand in front of St. Vincent Catholic Church in the four-time NBA MVP’s hometown of Akron, Ohio, one day after James’ colossal homecoming announcement.
You couldn’t write this script any better.
When Nick Jones and Christa Deckard set their wedding date for July 12, 2014, they had no idea it would follow in the direct aftermath of what will likely go down as one of Cleveland’s biggest sports stories ever.
So, what better way to celebrate a glorious life moment than with a photo for the ages, paying tribute to one of Northeast Ohio’s most compelling athletes?
From left to right: Mike Collins, Miguel Ramirez, Bret Grund, Danny Stuart, Nick Jones (groom in the middle tossing the powder), Mike Stuart, Michael Deckard, Chris Jones, Ryon Smith
Jarred Wagner of Inlux Photo in Canton was the man behind the lens for the awesome photo, which he said was the groom’s idea and took two takes to nail.
"I quickly collected my jerseys and we got everything rolling," Jones said, reacting ecstatically when he found out the news of LeBron’s decision Friday. "We pulled the photo off even better than I could expect."
When the rumor of James’ return started proliferating the weekend before, Jones initially asked his wife if he and his groomsmen could wear the LeBron jerseys as the introduction to their reception. She obliged – just another sign that she was a keeper.
The Joneses story actually has part of its beginnings in basketball, as Christa took Nick to a Cavaliers game for their third date, Dec. 14, 2012.
"Looking back, I knew I’d marry her but had no idea where I’d be and, at that point, I didn’t think there was a chance LBJ would be home," Jones said.
That December was a rough one for the Cavs, finishing the month 3-12. James’ Miami Heat won 66 games on their way to a title that season. But two years later, on Jones’ wedding day, the horizon gleams of much brighter times ahead for his favorite basketball team.
"LeBron coming back is the greatest thing that could have happened to us in the sports world," best man Mike Stuart said. "It is a great thing for Northeast Ohio in many ways, as he will help the economy of his hometown, inspire young kids to have their priorities straight, and of course, help break the curse of Cleveland sports."
All parties will have to wait on that whole breaking the curse deal but hopes are understandably high, staked upon the success of James’ first tenure in Cleveland and a Cavs roster stocked with young talent. James’ return also means he will once again be a hero to kids growing up in Cleveland, Akron and the surrounding areas of Northeast Ohio.
Jones and Stuart were once those youngsters, hitting the court together and becoming friends on basketball teams in Cuyahoga Falls. The groom and best man didn’t go to high school together though, as the huge LeBron fan Jones ironically attended Archbishop Hoban, the rival high school of James’ St. Vincent St. Mary.
Another groomsman, Bret Grund, was a high school classmate to Jones. The two faced adversity in those years, losing a friend and football teammate, Anthony Grimaldi, in a car crash.
Now, Grund again faces a fight, diagnosed with stage four glioma, a rare form of brain cancer. Currently living in San Francisco, Grund said the support from friends, family and love ones has been unbelievable. That support system was sowed in his home state of Ohio.
"Hard work and loyalty to our sports teams (and in general) is what my father taught me," Grund said. "And that all stems from growing up in Northeast Ohio."
Coming home is what James did in making his decision to play again for the Cavaliers.
"Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart," James said in his first-person essay in Sports Illustrated.
These nine guys outside a church, bearing a name fittingly similar to James’ high school alma mater, represent James’ words too, a microcosm of the pride inherent in so many who call this place home.
"[The] wedding day really was the best day ever," Jones said. "All this is just icing on the cake. LeBron coming home is the best thing that could possibly happen to Cleveland."
Can’t find many in these parts who would argue that.