Welcome home, neighbor!
You may not realize it, LeBron, but you and I live only 3 miles apart.
Since you moved into your Bath mansion in 2008, I have enjoyed telling friends that I live right around the corner from the most famous basketball player on the planet. Given that the planet is home to 6 billion people, that’s pretty cool.
And now that you’ve converted your summer home back into your full-time residence, it’s even cooler.
But before we go any further, ’Bron, I have a confession to
\make. I haven’t always felt real neighborly toward you.
Full disclosure: Shortly after your departure, I purchased and proudly wore a T-shirt that read “Quitness.”
Black, short-sleeve XL, white lettering. There’s smaller type below “Quitness” that reads, “kissmyasslebron.com.”
I haven’t worn that shirt for a long time. But I still have it. So I’ll make you a deal: If things go the way we all hope they will, on the night you lift the Larry O’Brien trophy over your head, I will take my Quitness shirt out onto my driveway, run it over with the car a few times and then burn it.
Here’s how I look at our relationship, neighbor: If you can forgive the poison penmanship of team owner Dan Gilbert, you will understand that I, too, took the manner in which you departed personally. You emotionally sucker punched me and Gilbert and every other sports fan in the 330, the 440 and the 216.
Actually, it wasn’t just sports fans. The run-up to your 2010 decision turned into a referendum on the desirability of Northeast Ohio itself.
Our civic pride began to squirm during the first round of that year’s playoffs, when Chicago center Joakim Noah, after spending an off-day in Cleveland, declared to the national media, “There’s nothing to do here.” In fact, he said, the city “sucks.”
The following day, he didn’t back off one iota: “I never heard anybody say, ‘I’m going to Cleveland on vacation.’ What’s so good about Cleveland?”
As The Decision approached, Rick Reilly jumped on the cheap-shot bandwagon, telling his ESPN audience, “LeBron in Cleveland is like Madonna in Wichita, Kansas.”
Even the president of the United States weighed in on Cleveland’s allegedly tainted stature.
“I think it would be a wonderful story if LeBron [stays],” Barack Obama told Larry King. “That’s a town that has had some tough times. For him to say, ‘I’m going to make a commitment to this city,’ you know, I think it would be a wonderful thing.”
And then, after all that build-up, LeBron, you took your talents south.
Fueling our anger was this: From the time you were in high school, you talked endlessly about your love for your city and your teammates and the importance of loyalty.
When you came to the Beacon Journal in 2002 for an awards ceremony after being named Parade magazine’s High School Player of the Year, you insisted that your teammates be allowed to tag along. You did the same thing seven years later when you won the equivalent award in the NBA.
That’s why I concluded, an instant after the words “South Beach” came tumbling out of your gloating mouth, that your alleged fixation on loyalty was nothing but hot air, as hot as the air inside a rubber basketball laying on a blacktop court in 90-degree weather.
Well, I was wrong.
I didn’t realize that until two days ago.
You put your money where your mouth is, your career where your heart is, your home where our homes are. You eschewed South Beach and Malibu and the Miracle Mile for Montrose.
None of us should question your loyalty again.
Part of the problem, as you undoubtedly know, is that we Northeast Ohioans suffer from a sort of mass neurosis about our collective image. Although most of us are here by choice — if we hated the place, we’d leave — we worry far more than is healthy about what outsiders think of us.
Not that our lack of civic confidence doesn’t have some basis in reality. As David Giffels puts it in The Hard Way on Purpose, his wonderful collection of essays about Akron:
“I have spent my whole life watching people leave. This is a defining characteristic of the generation of postindustrial Midwesterners who have stayed in their hometowns.
“At every stage of opportunity, at every life crossroads, friends and family members and enemies and old lovers and vaguely familiar barflies depart. ... They all leave.
“A conversational quirk exists among natives of this region: Whenever we hear people say they’ve moved here from somewhere else, we instinctively respond, ‘Why?’ ”
Giffels can say that because he lives here. The national talking heads can’t because they don’t.
With certain exceptions.
Chris Rose, who now works for the MLB and NFL networks, grew up in Shaker Heights. The day after you left, LeBron, I printed a quote from him that captures our sports history better than anything else I’ve ever heard:
“Cleveland sports fans are 90 percent scar tissue.”
On Friday, you turned into a physical therapist. You broke some adhesions, my man. A lot of them. I’d say our scar-tissue percentage has plummeted to no more than 75.
In other words, I’m all in, King. You make my heart sing.
Hey, neighbor ... maybe I can swing by and say hello when you get back from the World Cup.
LeBron? LeBron? You still there?
Must be a bad connection.