I can relate to LeBron James.
I’m old and white. I’m not worth hundreds of millions of dollars. I stink at basketball and nobody cares where I choose to ply my trade. But, here’s what I do have in common with James: When I was in my early twenties, I left my home in the Rust Belt and headed for Miami.
He left Akron. I left Pittsburgh.
It was late January when my two buddies and I piled in a car and headed South. It was cold, gray, with periods of snow, slush, salt and cinders.
The feeling I had when I got out of the car a day and a half later and saw palm trees and felt the warm breeze made the trip worthwhile. Whatever followed would be gravy.
We spent the first two weeks going to the beach every day.
We had arrived in paradise and couldn’t believe we had wasted the first quarter of our lives living in Hell.
Then we got jobs. It took about two weeks to realize that not everybody in Miami was on vacation. We left for work in the morning and when we got home around six o’clock it was dark.
Just like Pittsburgh.
It took us three months of that to realize that living in the Sun Belt isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You still have to sit in rush hour traffic twice a day and work at a job you may not like.
We went home.
Maybe, after earning a quarter of a billion dollars and winning two NBA championships, James came to the same conclusion.
There really is no place like home.
On Friday, when he made his announcement on SI.com, it was 75 degrees with 46% humidity in Cleveland. In Miami it was 90 with 68% humidity. In Miami, everybody except the tourists wanted to be inside the same way everybody in Cleveland wants to be inside in February.
Good for LeBron James and good for Cleveland.
James did something that athletes are rarely smart enough to do. He made his decision based on something other than money. When you are half way to your first half billion dollars, you have the luxury of never having to make a decision based on money again. Very few players take advantage of that luxury.
In his statement to SI.com, James wrote, “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball.” Nine out of 10 times in professional sports, the translation of that statement would be “I went for the cash.”
I don’t get that feeling this time.
James seems to genuinely want to return to his roots. And this is no small thing for Cleveland (affectionately known as The Mistake on the Lake here in Pittsburgh).
Cleveland is like so many northern cities that have been destroyed by bad government, and are desperately trying to encourage natives to stay and new businesses to relocate.
This is about so much more than basketball.
LeBron James just told the world that he could live anywhere and he chose Cleveland. (Okay, maybe he actually chose Akron.)
That’s even better.
Good for Akron.
Good for Cleveland.
John Steigerwald is the author of “Just Watch The Game.” Follow him on Twitter