“I’m coming home.” The last sentence of a letter that may be the most powerful thing written for my home city of Cleveland. In a shocking and completely unprecedented move, LeBron James is returning home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. People outside of the Northeastern Ohio area may be happy with him returning to the Cavs, but for us that letter meant more than getting any player or winning any game.
Cleveland and all of Northeastern Ohio has always been “The Mistake by the Lake.” We are the butt of every sports joke and deal with constant put downs from anyone who didn’t grow up there. Never has an athlete or person thought of the area as a destination, but for us no matter where we go, it will always be home. As a sports fan you always want your athletes to care about your city, generally they don’t. They enjoy playing there, they love being cheered but whether they’re getting paid by your town or mine doesn’t matter as much as trying to win.
I am a Clevelander, and I will admit I burned jerseys, t-shirts, newspapers, stat sheets, and more four years ago. I had never been so angry by anything in sports. ‘The Decision’ was a bad move, the retribution was just as bad if not worse. It made me angry to the point that I stopped watching and caring about the Cavs. That was hard for someone who grew up with posters, t-shirts, and jerseys of Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, and ‘Hot Rod’ Williams. I used to sneak into Ron Harpers basketball camp just to watch the Cavs players. We used to go to ‘Whitey’s’ in Richfield after a Cavs game and see the players enjoy a burger and a beer. That was the Cavs team I grew up with, the definition of a ‘hometown’ team.
That all stopped for me on June 8, 2010. We felt betrayed. Not that he left, but how he left. I’ve had arguments for years defending that feeling and I stand by it. My argument was grounded by the same reason on why that essay touched us so much, you won’t understand if you aren’t from Cleveland. The essay is bigger than the game of basketball and LeBron James. It makes us proud to be from Northeastern Ohio, and James gets that.
Lost in the fact is how it not just makes us feel good but with is brings jobs, money, and growth into a city that so desperately needs it. The city hasn’t been the same since he left and it won’t be the same again. Every trip home brings more factories and businesses closed, but for me (like James) also brings the feeling of “home” more than ever. Now the streets will be packed, new restaurants and shops will open, and I think it will also make Cleveland more desirable for other free agents in our other sports. This will help the Cavs, Browns, Indians, and the locals in attitudes and in their wallets.
Although at this point in my professional life I will more than likely never again live in Cleveland, it will always be home. I will always be proud of that. I will always understand our Midwestern values which mirror exactly what James said in his essay, “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.”
James is ready to go to work and thanks to him so many locals will be able to work as well. You are right LeBron, this goes “above basketball” and will mean more to the local area children and other “old head(s)” than you realize. Next week, I’m also heading back for a trip, and I also couldn’t be more excited to be going “home.”
The “related” suggestions at the bottom of this speak volumes about free agents in professional sports…