Here's to Ohio

One year after LeBron James announced his intention to return to Ohio to continue his NBA career, we celebrate his home state -- and ours.

Love of home, sublimest passion that the human heart can ever know!

Changeless still, through fate and fashion; rise and fall and ebb and flow,

To the glory of our nation,

To the welfare of our state,

Let us all with veneration

Every effort consecrate

And our city, shall we fail her? Or desert her gracious cause?

Nay- with loyalty we hail her, and revere her righteous laws.

She shall ever claim our duty,

For she shines -- the brightest gem

That has ever decked with beauty

Dear Ohio's diadem

-- "A Toast to Dayton," by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Well here we are a year after LeBron James surprised many and announced he would be returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers after four years with the Miami Heat.

I don't think many people outside of Ohio believed that was possible until the very second they read his essay in Sports Illustrated. Still others are probably cynical to enough to have had their doubts right up until the moment he actually signed his new contract.

He laid out quite eloquently why he made The Decision (version two) a reversal of The Decision (version one), but I still got the impression it left a lot of people from a lot of places confused.

Not me. I got it right off the bat even though we're from different corners of Ohio and I'm sure had quite different experiences growing up.

"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." -- LeBron James, to Sports Illustrated

I can dig it.

I felt inspired reading LeBron's letter because of the endorsement he gave Ohio, and although he focused on the northeast, I believe many of the items he wrote about could be ascribed to the entire Buckeye State.

Thomas Wolfe is best known in popular culture these days for the quote, "You can't go home again," but like the most famous quote from Vince Lombardi ("Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.") it's not quite understood the way he meant it to be.

Lombardi meant there's no point in trying if you don't intend to win, not that anything short of winning was failure. Put forth a winning effort in everything.

Wolfe meant even if you go back to where you came from, you won't find the place you left. It will inevitably be different, so you better be prepared for what you find. That didn't scare off LeBron, of course, and he and the Cavaliers arguably overachieved in year one. Now they are poised for a long run of dominance if they can stay healthy. He could end up changing the sports DNA of the whole region before all is said and done. Then it won't be the same place he returned to, either.

"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile...."

LeBron's decision kicked off quite a year for sports in Ohio. The nation seemed to have to pay attention to us for one reason or another just about nonstop since. First there was Johnny Manziel mania then the annual Bengals' newly annual playoff flameout followed by a stunning Ohio State football triumph in the first College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes' big win capped a season of almost unbelievable twists and turns, including tragedies of both the trivial and the very serious kind.

Sports Illustrated helped quite a bit, of course, first publishing LeBron's essay and then for some reason putting the Indians on the cover of their MLB preview with the rather baffling proclamation they would win the World Series. As fleeting as those hopes might have been, LeBron picked things up in the spring with the Cavs' playoff run, and now we're just a few weeks from the start of another Ohio State football season (not to mention the Bengals and Browns getting back to work, such as they do...).

What a year it's been, eh?

I've always pitied those who don't love where they're from. There's nothing wrong with those folks. I'm sure many have good reasons. I just can't relate. Nor would I want to. 

This is my foundation. Sometimes too many people know you, but I've found that beats the alternative. 

Even while LeBron's move back north seemed natural to me, I guess I can't blame those who were caught off guard.

And admittedly I couldn't hep but wonder: Is it different here than other places?

Well, I don't know if I could really tell you. I've never lived anyplace else. Maybe it doesn't matter. I know I love it. I know it has its high and low points.

I mean I think we do have a lot going for us.

River towns and lakefront properties. Farms and factories. Land-locked capitals and other towns, villages and cities with all kinds of strengths and weaknesses in between. Universities of all sizes and persuasions. Pro sports of every kind and great museums and performing arts places.

There's something for everyone really. 

We can grow just about anything, make just about anything and hopefully some day cure just about anything, too, all while playing host to teams from high school to the pros that we love just the same to love and die with. 

We invented flight and perfected football.

What more could you want? 

“I’m from Ohio, this is my home state. This is where I started and this is where I’m going to finish it," Braxton Miller, to the Columbus Dispatch

I think Ohio is fortunate to have such a large population of both rural and city folks even if one or both sides seem not to realize the other exists sometimes.

We all have our own ideals, sometimes from what we learned growing up and sometimes more what we got when we left.

I like plenty of other places I've visited, I just like Ohio more. It's what I know, after all. I kind of get the same vibe from Urban Meyer and LeBron James, two guys who went elsewhere, found success and came back espousing the virtues of our fine state. And they went right back to winning, too. Neither won it all in year one, but they laid a good foundation.

They both spend some formative time winning in Florida, too, which is kind of an amazing coincidence. But that state has some similarities to ours, especially in the wide variety of landscapes and people. So much is different it almost doesn't -- or maybe it shouldn't -- make sense or work, but it does.

All places have their charm and pride, but lately it has seemed like Ohio has at least a little more.

Are we different for how we mix our challenges and our triumphs? Maybe.

The feeling that something different is going on in our state has been impossible to escape over the past year, if not longer.

The latest reminder came just this past week when Braxton Miller said once and for all he will be finishing what he started were he started -- in Ohio. Over the past few months, that seemed as much a fait accompli to many Ohioans as it was impossible to comprehend elsewhere.

Why would he stay and fight for a position that was once his when he could go somewhere else and find an easier path? Well, maybe he just likes it here. Does there need to be more than that? (Of course there was really no guarantee he would find an easier path anywhere else, either, and considering questions about his health will continue to dog him until he makes it all the way through the season without aggravating his shoulder injury, any decision likely was more complicated than just that.)

"The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy." -- LeBron to SI

In the end I have to admit this phenomena is probably impossible to quantify, but does that really matter? That might ruin the fun anyways. No reason to overthink it. 

We're smart enough to know a lot but maybe not too smart for our own good. We have a lot of experiences, but not so many we don't have our specialties. 

We have a lot to be proud of, but successes and failures both galvanize us. 

We might not always triumph, but we often produce winning performances -- and I mean in life more so than sports. 

If we don't exactly reign often, we still do a lot well. So we have plenty to hold our heads high about but enough struggles to keep us humble, too. 

There's a sense of welcome and belonging because anyone can be an Ohioan. There's no one look or accent or activity we all identify with, no matter whether we grew up by the lake shore, the river shore or a cornfield.

You can see a great deal of the country from here and a good bit of the country within us as well. 

We have beaches and hills and plains and skyscrapers and suburbs. Astronauts and inventors. Winners and losers. Old fashioned and forward thinkers. Tradition and innovation. 

Everything you can ask for, really. 

And it's all been spilling out over the past year. Ohio seems like the capital of the country in some ways lately, and we might just be getting started both in sports and beyond. 

I've loved seeing all the Ohio pride spill over from so many sources over the past year, but I don't think these are new feelings. 

We probably were just waiting for a reason to let them out, and people like Urban Meyer and LeBron James helped provide some of those, though they aren't alone. 

"Why would they come back?" others asked. "Why would Braxton stay?"

Maybe they just like it here. 

Maybe trying to pin it all down is a waste of time. Perhaps this is just what they know, where they are happy and comfortable. 

That's what home is, wherever that happens to be. 

For them -- and for us -- that's Ohio. 

My Ohio might not be what yours is, but we've both got them. 

Who's got it better?

"... back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time -- back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."-- Thomas Wolfe

Maybe in the end it just comes down to being home.

It's been a few years now since I last lived in the place I grew up, but I think Wolfe had the right idea.

Home is a place that will always be there, but it won't be what it was when you left. That's impossible. People come and go. They grow and change and leave and die. You change, too. We can hold on to certain basic tenets, but those will have to adapt to the procession of years. 

Still, the spirit of the place remains, for worse sometimes but hopefully more often for better. 

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