Tuesday, July 13, 2010

On The Decision

 1.  I lived in Akron, Ohio for five years. And then I left. I was 22 when I arrived, and 27 when I departed, and I'm not going to lie: It was a bizarre place to be a young and single and unmoored. The first piece of advice I received from a co-worker when exploring places to live was that a certain township to the south of Akron had no property taxes; at that point, I didn't even know how property taxes worked.

So I guess what I'm saying is that there's an inherent hypocrisy to me criticizing anyone for leaving Northeast Ohio, because I once left Northeast Ohio myself. It wasn't the place I wanted to live my life--though my memories of it grow fonder as the years pass--but it is the place where several of my friends live their lives, and quite happily. Many of them were born there, and many of them have never left. And yet none of them expected LeBron James to stay at home. They have been conditioned to presume the worst. They have been conditioned to believe that nothing good ever lasts.

2. Maybe it was my own naivete, but I thought they were wrong. Even as the Miami rumors built to an inevitable pitch, I kept thinking it was all a ruse. LeBron was different, I thought. LeBron is not like me at age 25--a transient, in search of something bigger. LeBron is one of them. He came of age in Akron. At heart, he was a nativist; this was what set him apart from every other high-profile athlete of the modern age. He wouldn't possibly grind his hometown into his heel like this. Beneath the unavoidable bubble of egotism, his loyalty to his hometown and his sense of humor and his inherent showmanship made him appear surprisingly self-aware. And so I had a theory: The television show, the rumors flitting about on Twitter, the whole ridiculous years-long free-agency parade...it was a ruse, and once LeBron chose Cleveland, he would reveal that this had all been an exercise in media criticism, a statement on our own misplaced mores and outsized passions. Once LeBron said, "I'm staying in Cleveland," it would all make sense. It would become the biggest Rope-a-Dope since the heyday of Muhammad Ali. It would be a thumb in the eye of New York, a fist in the face of Chicago, and the greatest victory for Cleveland since the heyday of Otto Graham.

3. One of my close friends, Ryan Jones, once wrote a book about LeBron James. He also wrote this piece in the hours before the announcement, and managed to put my upcoming book into a modern context in a way far better than I ever could. "They might not see it, because they don’t live in the same world the rest of us do," Ryan wrote of LeBron's handlers. "Or they might agree and not care, because they’re committed to doing this their way, all the way, trusting that history will eventually prove them wise."

I was at the beach last week when it happened. I watched it on a tiny, standard defintion television, and for that, I am grateful. Outside of live reality television, I have witnessed few events more uncomfortable than The Decision. The thing is, I didn't blame LeBron for doing it. I didn't blame him for doing it because I presumed it was all part of an orchestrated fake-out, that it was more of a comment on what sports have become than an unironic and tone-deaf event. I didn't blame LeBron because I presumed he knew that history would prove him wise, because he had his mind made up all along.

About that, I suppose I was correct.

4. "Remember MORE THAN A GAME?" my friend Bob wrote from Akron the morning after. "Practically the first event that is recounted in the film is LeBron deciding to not play for the public school (Buchtel), but instead going to St V.  Anyone who has a kid playing sports in a public school is familiar with the phenomenon - the gifted athletes running off to the moneyed schools.  In GAME, LeBron even says that he 'knew it would make a lot of people angry.'  And that he was going to play with his friends. To do 'what was best for him. To win.'"

There's no way an athlete or a fan can grow up in Northeast Ohio and not feel the weight of losing. It trickles down. It's in the bloodstream. My guess is LeBron felt it, too; maybe that self-doubt is what made him choose to escape, to take an easier path, to embrace almost certain victory. (He was a Yankee fan, after all.) At 25, every male is conflicted, and LeBron was, too: He loved his hometown, even if his hometown had trouble loving itself. He could either attempt to alter that self-image almost entirely on his own, or he could do what people have done for years now: He could escape. And it is to his credit, and to his blame, that he presumed the worst.

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