It’s been over 48 hours now. You and the rest of the world now know that Lebron is coming home.
I wanted to write about this yesterday but this is my first opportunity to get enough time to gather my thoughts together and put it all into words.
Before I really get into it, I need to unpack my mind of a few things. Hopefully you’ll stick around for the whole post. Especially if you’re not from Cleveland or Ohio. Even if you swore you’d never forgive what Lebron did or if you, like me, could care less about NBA basketball.
I need to make sure everyone knows… I AM CLEVELAND. However, I was not born in Cleveland, Ohio. I was born in Sandusky, Ohio. That is about 60 miles from Cleveland. Lebron James was born in Akron, Ohio which is about 40 miles from Cleveland. Lebron says he is coming home and if “home” is 40 miles away from Cleveland then I will take liberty and say I am from Cleveland as well. I mean what does 20 miles make when it comes to being home? That being said, I have no ties to Cleveland other than the fact that it is “in Ohio”.
My first loves of sports teams did not start in Cleveland, they were found in Baltimore. Where Johnny Unitas threw the football and the Orioles were playing in the World Series. I did what kids have done since the beginning of time… I just followed where the championships were won and became a bandwagon fan. Not because of the love of the team but because at the time that was all you could watch on TV.
Then as the championships faded away and those Baltimore teams fell into mediocrity, I became less and less interested in following them. I could not identify with them. Then just like the first time you realize the existence of girls, my twelve-year-old mind and heart started searching for something real, something I could love forever, something I could identify with.
I found it… or rather it found me in the city of Cleveland.
I don’t need to go through the list of heartache the City of Cleveland has endured when it comes to sports. The list is long and heartbreaking. I can tell you where I was when a majority of them happened. The City itself has had it’s share of tough times. It has rebounded and fallen again. It seems like just when the sun starts to shine on Cleveland, something happens and the clouds arrive again. I think that is why the people who love Cleveland live and die (more die than live) with their beloved sports teams. It’s their escape. No matter how bad a team is, each season begins with it a hope that this is the year. That “just once before I die” finally comes true.
It’s well documented but Lebron was one of our own. He knew our long history of failure. In a way that was both unhealthy and unfair, we thought he was going to be the guy. He was just out of high school and we thought the storybook ending of one of our own delivering the thing that has eluded the city for so long was perfect. I have always maintained that I wasn’t mad about his “decision” to leave. I was mad about HOW he went about it. The “Decision” that took place four years ago wasn’t supposed to happen.
For the past four years I have always felt that Lebron was never comfortable in the role of villain. He never wore that well. He regretted the decision but it was something he had to do. Don’t we all chase something at some point in our lives? Sometimes it turns up as expected, but often it does not. I always believed that Lebron would someday return, I just didn’t think it would happen now.
As the days passed the tension in Cleveland began to build. I believed that if he chose Miami or anywhere else this time, it would crush Cleveland once again and I braced myself for that to happen. This was not the 2010 decision. He remained quiet. Social media, national media and fan hysteria began to build like a title wave. For days, twitter was a constant refresh and sports talk radio was filled with talk of Lebron. Where was he? What was he doing? Who were the sources? How would we know? Web sites crashed. Planes were tracked. It was all a bit too crazy.
Then on Friday, I was driving back from Elyria with Cleveland Radio blaring in the background. I also had my phone on just in case some news broke. In a “where were you” moment, a “breaking news” alert came across the radio and my phone rang. I listened as my brother-in-law (a devout Piston fan) yelled into the phone, “Your boy is coming home.” Even he admitted that it was good for the people of Cleveland.
One after another after another, tweets linking Lebron’s essay on SI.com. Apparently, Lebron wrote a letter explaining his decision and it was used as a press release. The local radio hosts were going insane. It was a moment I will never forget.
And then they read the letter….. (Click here to read)
I was smiling ear to ear as they began to read Lebron’s words. Chills covered my arms and legs, as the radio host closed out the final words of his letter, he couldn’t finish. He was choked to tears. He paused, gathered himself and finished it out. I understood everything he was feeling because I was misty eyed too.
Lebron was coming home.
But the emotion I was feeling wasn’t about Lebron… this wasn’t about basketball and it certainly wasn’t about sports. This was about a love for a city. This was about the city of Cleveland and it’s people.
I said this before and I say it again….with every fiber of my being, this is not about the Cleveland Cavaliers. For me it’s not. I am not even a fan of the NBA. Oh sure… I sort of paid attention when Daugherty, Nance, Price, Hot Rod and Harper played for the Cavs many years ago. But I am not even sure I will watch much more NBA now that Lebron is coming home than I did this past year… which was almost none.
I’m sure there are people who celebrated yesterday just because they believe this man will bring home a title. For me, the last thing I thought about yesterday was titles and wins. I thought about a City I call “home.” I thought about the financial implications. I thought about the closed bars, restaurants and businesses that sit around the arena. In true Cleveland fashion, they have fought and tried to come up with ways to give some kind of life to these establishments. It’s been a struggle but they never quit.
With those three simple words, “I’m coming home”… life and hope were delivered to a city I love.
People will come to downtown. Life will be breathed into a city that desperately needs it. People began to gather downtown as soon as the announcement went live yesterday. The Cavs sold out their season ticket packages in record fashion. Those are dollars that will be invested into the City. They will arrive early and stay late. They’ll support local businesses before, during and after the games. Hopefully, they will continue to see a winning product on the court for years to come.
I can’t speak for all of us that are fans of Cleveland, but I think I can. They, like me, love the City of Cleveland. They’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly and I’m not just referring to their sports teams. They want to see their city alive like we’ve seen it before. They want Cleveland to be something other than a punchline or report of some bad press. They know the beauty that lies on the shores of Lake Erie. We’ve heard all about the “mistake” by the lake but we know the “potential” of what Cleveland can be.
I don’t know who’ll read this. I don’t know what city you’re from. Maybe it’s a city that has always been on top. It’s easy to cheer for a winner… it’s tough to taste heartbreak and loss. Maybe you rolled your eyes at the endless string of Lebron posts on social media sites yesterday. Maybe you’ve never understood “Cleveland Fans” or their reactions to the misery.
If you feel the need to hold up your hand and show how many championships your team may have won and/or you feel the need to always make Cleveland the butt of a joke then you just don’t get it and I feel sorry for you. Because you will never understand nor appreciate what it is to be a Cleveland fan.
For one day, for a few crazy hours, Cleveland fans lost their mind. Emotions ran wild and this time it was mostly positive. Frustrations were released. Like I said, many probably are dreaming of championships and now place a huge weight back on the very broad shoulders of Lebron James. Fair or unfair, that challenge is going to be his responsibility to make it happen.
Today… I celebrate for the City of Cleveland. I am glad that Lebron is coming home.
After all… I am Cleveland.