Aug 8, 2014; Akron, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James walks with his wife Savannah Brinson and sons Lebron James Jr. and Bryce James during the LeBron James Family Foundation Reunion and Rally at InfoCision Stadium.
AKRON, Ohio — When I turned 25 years old, I left my hometown of Akron in search of a better opportunity.
No one burned my jersey. No one posted angry messages on the Internet. The only letter my boss wrote was one of recommendation to my new employer. My own parents even seemed excited I was leaving.
Nor was I taking my talents to South Beach.
Instead, I was trudging off to Wyoming — as a sportswriter who had finally landed a full-time gig. Yes, Wyoming. Yes, I would soon cover rodeos and sled-dog races and high school golf. But that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to someday return to my native Northeast Ohio and cover the NBA. Perhaps, also, to leave for a while to get a better understanding of what it takes to become a more-accomplished man, a better man.
As for actually someday covering pro basketball while living in my hometown — well, it seemed like a pipedream. But I knew if it was ever gonna happen, I probably had to leave.
I eventually returned, as a considerably more seasoned journalist, at the age of 29. The experiences are ones I will never forget. Wyoming will always hold a special place in my heart. But it wasn’t Akron. It wasn’t home.
At the age of 25, fellow Akron native LeBron James took a similar approach to his career.
He left his hometown, his home team, in search of a better situation. His fantasy, his pipedream, was to win an NBA championship.
He too returned home at the age of 29. He too seems like a changed man, a man with some regrets, for sure, but a man with plenty of reasons to feel proud. That makes LeBron James no different than I was then — no different than so many men who experience key emotional growth between the ages of 25 and 30.
So why was I so hard on James when he left for the Miami Heat in 2010?
Why did I feel so betrayed? Didn’t I do the same thing? Didn’t I myself depart for what I viewed as a better opportunity? Didn’t I leave at the same age James did? Didn’t I have a similar approach to life?
Now, I’m not trying to compare myself to the greatest basketball player in the world. I’m just a lowly sportswriter, and while I wear that badge with pride, it’s all I’ll ever be. James will likely be the King of Akron, the King of Cleveland Basketball, for quite some time.
And I ripped him good in 2010. I ripped him on Twitter, I ripped him in columns, I ripped him to family and friends. I didn’t care so much that LeBron left — I cared how he went about it. I was irritated with his national television special, with how James danced on a stage alongside Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat.
But here’s what I say about that now: Thank heavens there were no TV cameras on me at the age of 25. Thank heavens there aren’t any today, and I’m a lot older now than James was then.
You know what James did at the age of 25? He acted like a 25-year old.
Today, LeBron is back. I’ve been here for four years, covering the Cavaliers, covering the entire NBA, watching James become someone who I’m proud to say is from my hometown. And yes, I would say that regardless of the team for which he plays.
The fact he returned to the team I primarily write about, the team with which his career began, and how he went about all of it, makes me respect him that much more.
But mostly, I just think LeBron should know, that as a fellow Akron guy who left for a chance to polish my craft and bring the best of me back to Akron — man, I completely get it.
Mostly, I owe LeBron James an apology, and this is it: Sorry, LeBron, and welcome back. It’s good to be 29 and home. I’ve been there. I know.