By Kristy Barry
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
When I heard LeBron James will be returning to Cleveland, I cried, pumped both arms in the air, and called my mom.
“Mom, this is silly but I cried.”
“I cried too.”
Clicking on the SI.com link and reading his essay explaining his reasoning for returning felt like opening a gift I had long-hoped for but thought I’d never get. In fact, I’m set for Christmas this year.
I can see myself on the show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, waiting, the tractor trailer pulls forward and LeBron is standing there, ripped arms, tattoos, wry smile and all.
Four years before, I bet my friend Tom that LeBron would never leave Cleveland, with the rationale that the city had treated King James like royalty by giving him a throne, riches, and loyal worshippers. Post-announcement, I yelled at the TV, forked over $50 and felt a unique sense of sports-related distraught.
The last time I felt this pang was when Omar Vizquel left the Cleveland Indians for the San Francisco Giants, but the 1995 dream team had already started crumbling with lousy seasons, disappointing playoffs, and fleeings from Albert Belle, David Justice, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and the Alomar brothers. I could see signs, the slow fade of an impending breakup.
As a rabid fan of anything, it hurts when someone leaves your team. Like when I discovered Rufus Wainwright is gay, or that breaking up with my ex-boyfriend Henry would leave me without a dominant, 6’7″ partner for my doubles volleyball team as well as a softball ringer with a wingspan to cover half of the outfield.
They will go on to play for their different respective teams and you’re left with a void.
In sports, you root for someone so unabashedly and you want to feel your spiritual support somehow lifts an athlete to success. Perhaps college sports are easier to cheer for because even when you get attached to athletes, you can watch them play professionally. You can show fandom by buying jerseys, flying to cities where you can watch them play, spending nights watching them perfect their craft… and tuning into SportsCenter to catch highlights.
Then the forces of the sports universe sweep your toy away, in the tide of higher salaries and championship rings.
The same current that took LeBron to Miami is also pulling him back to Cleveland–to bring a championship to a city that has not won one since 1970. Not to mention that the Cleveland Browns haven’t won a championship since 1964, the Cleveland Indians since 1948.
Someone warned me to not be so optimistic, that we’re talking about Cleveland sports teams after all and the adage comes to mind about being leery about something that seems too good to be true.
Whether Cleveland wins a championship this year or not, King James will be back in his hometown, where he went to elementary school, middle school, and high school. In his own words on SI.com, he writes, “It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled.”
Staggering to me, because we are both the same age and while I accumulated student debt before I sat in a college classroom, and where he made $90 million in endorsements before he even stepped on an NBA court.
Then again, I left Ohio in the middle of college to spend a semester in Italy and afterwards to move to New York. LeBron had spent what would’ve been college years (presumably at Ohio State) still in Ohio and not venturing out to experience the thrill of living somewhere other than your home state. College years are for learning, for mistake-making, for shaking up your lifestyle.
LeBron went to Miami and now he’s back to make it right.
Photo courtesy of Kristy Barry.
Even while I’m collecting debt and wasting time taking classes on feminine literature, I feel happiness, not resentment, when someone wins the lottery. LeBron did, the Cavaliers did, and as a rabid Cleveland sports fan, I did too.
The excitement even exceeded my joy when the show Arrested Development returned with a fourth season.
I could see an emptiness in his eyes in Miami, even if that’s just me projecting, which sports fans are allowed to do at any point. Our fandom isn’t necessarily reasonable or factual. We want to feel like we’re at stake for someone’s success, our yelling, purchasing, touting, and betting on games.
My mom told me that she cried because his return signals that if you don’t have the love of your home and your family, then your life feels unfulfilled. For me, it’s a tearjerker storyline, like when you hear about couples marrying, divorcing, then re-marrying. They needed to figure it out. Make things right at home.
LeBron has enough money to buy islands, travel to the moon, and create his own city if he wishes. But he’s choosing to come back to Cleveland, to show his love for a city that will give him a king’s welcome.
For more, check out Kristy in conversation on BTR Sports, every Sunday on BreakThru Radio.