I was born in Cleveland, Ohio on November 2, 1981. I lived there for 18 years, took my talents to Ann Arbor, Michigan for college, then shipped off to California. I’ll be honest: I haven’t really missed Cleveland.
In fact, the last day I was actually in Cleveland was July 1, 2007 — over seven years ago. And even then, I was only there for my grandfather’s funeral. The only other thing I remember from that trip was buying the original iPhone on its launch day: June 29, 2007. I left and didn’t look back.
But I have to say, even I was moved by news of LeBron James, unquestionably the best basketball player in the world right now (and perhaps the best athlete overall), turning down every other team in the NBA who would gladly accept his service and returning to Cleveland. His home.
Everything about this decision was as perfect as his last decision — The Decision — was dreadful. His tweet of the news with a link to a simple Instagram picture featuring the words: “I’m coming home.” The humility. The complete and utter lack of a press conference.
And, of course, his letter published in Sports Illustrated, with the help of Lee Jenkins. It’s nearly pitch perfect, right from the opening:
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. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.
It’s a great letter because it’s not about basketball, it’s about his home. It’s almost impossible to believe that this is the same person who left the way he did four years ago. But it also shows in the brightest of spotlights that people really can change, or at least evolve. That villains can become heroes.
When LeBron left Cleveland four years ago, I could not have been any less surprised. This is what always happens to Cleveland — a city approaching the 50th anniversary of its last major sports championship (yes, really). Everyone leaves, including me.
It’s a once-great city that, while perhaps not dying as quickly as Detroit, has been locked in a state of perpetual decay. In some ways, that’s even worse. It’s like an ever-present, dull pain that you can’t cure.
But maybe, just maybe, LeBron has cured some of what ails Cleveland. That may sound like an exaggeration, but I’m not sure it is. Again, this isn’t about basketball. Just read his closing:
But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.
In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.
I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.
That’s LeBron James inspiring and rallying Northeast Ohioans. Akronites. Clevelanders. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t. But it actually makes me feel bad for forsaking my hometown after college and never really looking back. And it should. That’s his point — one he had to learn the hard way.
Coincidentally, I’m returning to Cleveland next week for the first time in seven years. I may not be coming home in the same way that LeBron is, but I’m excited and happy by his new decision and the way he framed it. I’m excited and happy to see a city rebuilding and energized. My hometown.