I’m not going to lie – those words are enough to send chills down my spine.
It’s hard to explain why Cleveland and why Ohio have such a hold on me, and so many of the people that I know and have grown up with.
At the end of the day, I think we like it in spite of itself.
From our perspective, it’s easy to live in a place like Miami, where the weather is warm and the beaches are plentiful. It’s easy to live in Los Angeles, where Hollywood beckons and California sun shines. It’s easy to live in New York City, where the city never sleeps and Jay-Z pens anthems.
Is it easy to live in Ohio, to live in Cleveland, where I’m from? A lot of times, no. The weather can stink. The sports teams (famously) don’t win. The economy moves in fits and starts. Yes, the river even caught fire a few times.
But there’s a hell of a lot to like here, too, and it’s starting to become more and more evident each day.
Sure, LeBron bucked a national trend by returning to Ohio. The state is among the worst in the nation when it comes to population growth, and the Midwest as a whole is struggling to the point the Big Ten saw fit to expand to add Maryland (huh?) and Rutgers (what?) to its footprint.
But for those who have moved away from The Heart Of It All over the past few years, I have to say, you’ve been missing out.
I spent the first 18 years of my life in on the west side of Cleveland – I grew up in Lorain, home of the Grown & Sexy Lounge – and then moved to Columbus to attend Ohio State. I never left upon graduation and have no plans to go anywhere else anytime soon, either, as I’ve found Columbus to be one of the most livable cities in the nation.
Through this job with Buckeye Sports Bulletin, I’ve been able to travel across the country and been many places. I love that work has sent me to Miami, Los Angeles and New Orleans – the ultimate event city – not to mention Boston, Pittsburgh, Detroit and more. I have a number of friends near Washington, D.C., so much so that the district has become a home away from home (see you in October for the Maryland game!).
But Columbus IS home. The drive up High Street from German Village to Clintonville always reminds me there’s nowhere else I’d rather be, from the laid-back vibe of the High Beck to the natural sprawl of Whetstone Park.
This is the city of Homage, the city of Jeni’s, the city of the Limited Brands. This is the test market of America, a place where Wendy’s can be headquartered yet places like Oliver’s can open and thrive on a regular basis. This is one of the best event cities in America and it’s getting better every day.
As for Cleveland, well, ESPN better rent some space in the Forest City to cover Johnny Manziel and LeBron over the next few years. There’s no denying Cleveland is a bit of a rough town, a city of industry where hard men and women worked to power this country for decades.
It’s also home for LeBron. Despite the rotten way in which he spurned Cleveland four years ago with “The Decision,” he’d never turned away from his roots, and his letter posted yesterday was just another example of that.
This is the city of Jim Brown, Mark Price and Omar Vizquel. Put in an honest day’s work and we’ll love you forever. This is the city of the West Side Market and Great Lakes Brewing. Honor your history and roots and we’ll respect you forever. This is the city of Playhouse Square and the Rock Hall. Create something and you’ll be known forever. On top of it, Cleveland is now a city of young, energetic, eager millennials working in a rapidly growing high-tech city with a burgeoning social scene.
Sure, Cleveland’s not perfect, and it has a long way to go. Its downtown is coming back but still has too many barren shops and boarded up fronts. The economic bad times seem to sink their teeth deeper into Cleveland than other places, and the snow and the bugs and the traffic can be tough to bear. And there’s that sports losing streak, too…
But enough about that. Cleveland, just like Columbus and the entire state of Ohio, is on the rise. Some are stunned that James would leave a place like Miami – a tropical paradise of sun, sand, nightlife and fun – for the gray skies of Ohio.
But there’s little doubt it feels like home to James, who still spent his offseasons in Akron and donned scarlet and gray whenever he could over the past few years. And it feels like home to me, too. To see someone powerful, someone of importance say that this is the place to be means more to the community than you could ever know.
It’s funny, I’ve had a lot of friends leave Ohio over the years after graduation, many to start their careers. Of late, I’ve noticed a lot of them are coming home to the Buckeye State. It speaks to the fact that, yes, we’ve got quite a bit going on here these days, but it also speaks to just how much Ohio gets its hooks into all of us. There's a reason Ohio State's coaches have taken to calling it the great state of Ohio.
So welcome back, LeBron. Thanks for showing the rest of the country what those of us in Ohio already know – there’s no reason to be anywhere else