By Jason Keidel
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LeBron James, de facto commissioner of pop culture, just decided to run against every grain television has taught us.
And God bless him for it.
King James decided to restore his throne. More importantly, he decided to go home. And he realizes that both come from the same source. He has eschewed the fictional morality of success, that leaving your roots is the real American narrative.
Our country was built not only on an aristocracy of talent, but also the wholly American notion that you took pride in your team, town, and familial influence, a confluence of timing and talent that is only poured out from the blender of the American experiment.
This is a Spike Lee Joint, the feel-good cinematic narrative of the native son come home to make it right. This is Jesus Shuttlesworth playing and paying for his star-crossed DNA. The intelligentsia spent their hours parsing the poisonous letter from the Cavaliers’ owner, dealing myriad controversial cards. LeBron saw beyond that, owned up to his mistakes and became the bigger man by forgiving the man who painted him in haunting hues.
James knows you can go home again. And we should all clap in his wake. Who leaves South Beach for Shaker Heights? Who leaves palm trees and 80 degrees for the frostbitten streets of Cleveland? Who makes it out of the ‘hood and then returns to the frigid corners of failed dreams?
The entire point of becoming a success is to leave the cold, concrete realities of crime only to ascend in some sunny nook of Americana. It turns out LeBron only left Ohio to grow up, to learn his place in the American Dream before he awakens.
For those who call him a traitor, please understand your source. Miami is the transient land of success. Who is actually from Miami? Even Don Shula, the patron saint of South Beach, is from Ohio.
And who the hell is Pat Riley to question someone’s loyalty? Shortly after he knew he couldn’t build a dynasty on 33rd Street, Riley the Rat couldn’t jump the good ship Knick quickly enough. Sure, I’ve argued it was the right move, but that’s all the more reason for Riley to realize, as they say on the street, that game recognizes game.
There’s more to a man’s character than his W-2, his bulging wallet, and his statistical legacy. There’s where he’s from. It sticks to your ribs like a spiritual stain for the rest of your life.
James is that kid from Cleveland, from Akron, from Northeast Ohio. And if a native New Yorker can’t understand that, then I’m ashamed to be a native New Yorker. If you were born in the five boroughs, then you know when the corner calls you, when your umbilical cord is forever dotted by your childhood. Sometimes local pride precludes business. Maybe it’s not the right move, but it’s the righteous move.
This isn’t just a matter of provincial pride. No matter our slice of the republic, all of us had some star or stripe drip into or lives. It’s the inherently American understanding that we produce greatness and, within that divine slice of celebrity, we know our corner of the world produced something prodigious. We don’t care if said star remembers us, recalls us, or relives our time together. We just love the fact that he remembered some part of our adolescence.
This entire ordeal is LeBron’s salutation to the ideal, to his childhood, to his rightfully narcissistic notion that he’s the difference. It’s what made him great, and what made his home great. And you don’t become great without being grandiose. All colossal accomplishment requires some level of hubris. And while you may see his homecoming as selfish, it’s really the ultimate gesture of selflessness.
No matter where you go, you remember first where you’re from. And no matter where I go, where I land, I’m that kid from Park West Village. Maybe you have to be from Columbus Ave, from some slice of Slick Rick’s anthem to understand that southern pocket of Harlem in the 1970s or ’80s, when New York City was really up for grabs.
No doubt all New Yorkers are from some pocket of Lady Liberty. And we all wish we could go back there. So if you question LeBron’s desire to make things right, then you really have no native soil. This is a story of unfinished business, which is quite Northeastern, Midwestern, and American.
This is exactly why we love sports, for the superior narrative that only athletics can provide. Sports give us the adrenal perch from which to perform, and somewhere along the way we get some wisdom. And LeBron just perpetrated the ultimate wisdom and wizardry in defense of the very downtrodden kids he swore to protect.
LeBron could have donated from a distance, made it rain from a safe haven, had his name etched on some plaque, like the long-dead president on a dollar bill. But he preferred to provide the paper, the ink, and the energy of his heritage.
Cleveland hasn’t won a pro sports title in 50 years. And that’s going to change. Not because we say so, but because LeBron James says so. Not with his words, but his deeds. And few would know better about the muted messages of royalty than King James? A sacred slice of Ohio hardwood awaits.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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