When we’re young, most of us need a chance to get away from our comfort zones, expand our horizons and grow up — even the biggest star in the NBA today.
That’s what makes Friday’s blockbuster sports news that LeBron James will return to the team where he began his career — in the city that’s just a short drive from his hometown — one of the most relatable and incredible sports stories in a long while.
As young people, some of us spread our wings and leave the nest by going to a college out of town. Some choose to serve their country by signing up for military service and some carve out their own unique journey.
James did not have that chance until he was 25. James grew up in Akron, where even in his teens he was seen as a basketball prodigy.
Immediately after graduating high school, James became a professional basketball player for the hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.
After seven years playing for the Cavs, James became an NBA star, but still did not seem to have the maturity to be seen as his generation’s best basketball player. That lack of tact was never more evident than during his made-for-TV event, “The Decision.”
In a self-aggrandizing display where he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans by announcing he was leaving Northeast Ohio to “take his talents to South Beach,” James instantly became the NBA’s biggest villain for nearly everyone outside of Miami.
Painting with a broad brush in retrospect, was this much different that the natural maturation process of most humans?
From 2010 to 2014, James was getting his four-year degree in becoming a better basketball player and a better man. And, like many of us, he needed to get away from home to do it.
Unlike James, none of us who left home to learn, grow and mature were widely excoriated for it.
After all the vitriol James received from those who had previously cheered him and even from the man who signed his checks in Cleveland, a lesser man may have turned his back on his hometown for good.
But clearly, James’ studies abroad in Miami served the required purpose, and now Cleveland fans should be thrilled.
He has not only learned to be a champion, but he has learned to be a better leader both on and off the court.
James’s maturation was evident in the starkly different manner in which he chose to announce Friday that he would be returning to Cleveland.
There was no prime time TV special, no huge parties and not even a press conference. There was simply a letter penned to Sports Illustrated (read the full letter at www.galvnews.com).
In the letter, James atones for the past and lays out his vision for the future in all the right ways. James realized he needed his hometown and his hometown needed him.
“I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up,” James stated in the SI letter. “Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile.”
Well, James is now leading by example.
The hometown kid now brings back the tools needed to lead a long-suffering sports city to glory — just like the future generations of Northeast Ohioans he hopes to inspire.