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Welcome Home, Mr. James
NBA superstar Lebron James realizes that the place he sought was there in Cleveland all along.

LeBron James

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There’s something about home.

That’s the reason basketball superstar and Akron, Ohio, native Lebron James is returning to Cleveland. In a personal essay titled “I’m Coming Home,” published Friday on the Sports Illustrated website, “King James,” who led the NBA’s Miami Heat to the NBA Finals each of the last four years (they won twice), wrote about his decision to return to his childhood team and first NBA employer, the Cleveland Cavaliers:

I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when. . . . I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.

Let’s make some stipulations: Yes, Lebron likely would not be leaving Miami had the Heat not handily lost this year’s championship to the San Antonio Spurs. And yes, Lebron will be making lots of money; the details are unpublished, but Cleveland purged its bench to clear a maximum-contract spot for James that will earn him around $21 million a year. The prodigal son is returning, and he will receive a fatted calf. And then some.

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None of that detracts, though, from the fact that James — the NBA’s best player, as well as its most coveted contract — chose to return to Cleveland, a franchise that, since he departed for Miami in 2010, has an average winning percentage of .311. Last year the Cavs placed tenth in the Eastern Conference out of 15 teams. You do not go to Cleveland for championships.

But there is something about going home.

Toward the end of his final masterpiece, Four Quartets, T. S. Eliot wrote:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Granted, Eliot was writing about spiritual conversion, not NBA free agency, but there is a touch of Eliot’s sentiment in James’s essaylet: “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”

Conservative thought has a long tradition of emphasizing the importance of “rootedness,” from Eliot and his Vanderbilt contemporaries to the great storyteller of “place,” Wendell Berry. Those ideas find expression today at outlets such as Front Porch Republic. National Review alumnus Rod Dreher’s recent autobiography, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, reintroduced the notion of the importance of roots to a whole new audience.

These thinkers make explicit something left implicit in the thought of Edmund Burke, who emphasized – as an alternative to the excesses of the French Revolution – tradition and gradual, organic change: that these cornerstones of a healthy society do not develop in the abstract. Men are more than minds; tradition develops because particular people do particular things in particular places, over and over for a long time. It doesn’t work if they don’t stay put.

Richard Weaver, in his essay “The Regime of the South” (published in National Review in 1959), observed that long obedience in a place gives rise to a rich nexus of relations — what Wendell Berry aims to capture in Port Arthur, for example, his fictional farming community where the same families weave in and out of each other’s lives over generations. It is not abstract Enlightenment Reason that gives a person his identity; it is that soil of relationships in which he is rooted. Uproot him, and he becomes dislocated.

Dislocation is the illness with which Will Barrett finds himself afflicted in Walker Percy’s The Last Gentleman. Barrett, a southerner, finds himself living hand-to-mouth in New York City, suffering bouts of amnesia and “fugue states.” During an earlier episode “he was discovered totally amnesiac and wandering about the Shenandoah Valley between Cross Keys and Port Republic, sites of notable victories of General Stonewall Jackson.” Barrett is trying to get back to familiar soil. No other patch of earth will do.

Cleveland is the NBA home for James, and he too seems to suggest that no other city will do. “Before anyone cared where I would play basketball,” he writes, “I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled.” He is specially connected with that region, its delights and displeasures and eccentricities. He pounded its pavements and hardwoods. No other place is the same. Now he wants to share that with his children, by “rais[ing] my family in my hometown,” and with the larger community:

I want kids in Northeast Ohio . . . to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.

That rich nexus of relations may be beginning.

All of this, additionally, is a striking departure from the way James broadcast his 2010 decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers: “The Decision,” a 75-minute ESPN television special. James is not going in for that this time: “I’m not having a press conference or a party. After this, it’s time to get to work.” Perhaps that attitude is a reflection of how he understands his roots: “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given,” he writes. “Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge.”

You can’t go home again, Thomas Wolfe famously wrote. Since you left, the place has changed, and it will never be exactly the same. But you can go home again, as Eliot explained, if you have explored all the promising crannies and crevices and finally seen that the place you sought was there all along. Maybe in the coming years, James will decide he wants to do some more exploring. But if what he has written is true, well, then, Mr. James: Welcome home.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.


The Cleveland Show
The Republican National Committee is taking its 2016 convention to the battleground state of Ohio, announcing this week that scenic Cleveland will be the place to be. Here’s a look a some fun facts about “C-Town” for Grand Old Partiers planning on attending.
The GOP's timing could not have been better. BREAKING NEWS: LeBron is Back! More on that in a minute...
Holding the convention in Cleveland — also known as the "Metropolis of the Western Reserve" — will focus Republicans on a virtual must-win state for any White House hopeful. Some 50,000 people are expected to attend the event, along with national and world media.
Other cities that had been considered include Dallas (which ended up being the runner-up), Denver, Kansas City, and Las Vegas. The 2016 convention will also probably take place earlier than in recent years, possibly late June or mid-July, in order to shorten the primary season. Pictured, beautiful downtown Cleveland.
Cleveland last hosted a presidential convention in 1936, and lost a bid to host the GOP in in 2008. Since then the city has added a new convention center and many more hotel rooms. Pictured, the Fountains of Eternal Life in downtown.
BY THE NUMBERS: Cleveland represents some of the important demographic opportunities and challenges facing the GOP as it seeks to build a winning coalition. With a population of just under 400,000, Cleveland is 53% black and about 10% Latino, according to 2010 Census figures.
“THE MISTAKE ON THE LAKE”: Cleveland has had its share of struggles over the years, many typical of northeast Rust Belt cities, including a declining economy, fleeing residents, and crime. In 1978 it became the first major city since the Depression to enter financial default. An agenda of economic renewal could definitely find a receptive audience. Pictured, Terminal Tower.
HOT TIME IN THE CITY: In addition to sitting on the shores of Lake Erie, Cleveland is built on the outlet of the Cuyahoga River, a waterway so polluted in the late 1960s that it actually caught fire — something that had happened numerous times before — in an incident that received nationwide news coverage and seemed to capture the city’s woes.
THE UNION LABEL: Cleveland is a heavily Democratic town with strong unions, both of which will likely mean rowdy protests at the convention. In 2011 unions helped decisively defeat an Ohio law that sought to limit collective bargaining for public employees, so if Scott Walker is attending in any important capacity (hint, hint), expect even more discord.
EMERGENCY ROOM: Cleveland is home to the Cleveland Clinic, one of the nation’s premiere hospitals, and CEO Toby Cosgrove has not been shy about speaking the truth about Obamacare, citing higher premiums and blaming the law's onerous regulations for staff and service cutbacks.
COMMAND PERFORMANCE: Cleveland may be a long way from Broadway, but its Playhouse Square Center is the largest performing arts center outside of New York City. Here’s hoping the local theater group will stage a special Hobby Lobby-themed edition of The Vagina Monologues.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS: Basketball superstar LeBron James broke Cleveland’s collective heart when he skipped out on the city for sunnier climes in Florida in 2010. But just days after the GOP picked Cleveland, so did James, announcing his return to the Cavaliers. Coincidence?
WHO LET THE DAWGS OUT?: The Cleveland Browns have never made it to the Super Bowl, and in 1995 then-owner Art Modell absconded with the team to Baltimore. But the limited success of the franchise’ second edition has not dimmed the enthusiasm of diehard fans, who gather in the east-side end zone’s infamous “Dawg Pound.”
INDIAN AFFAIRS: The Cleveland Indians have so far not attracted the kind of ire directed at the Washington Redskins over their American-Indian mascots. But it’s certainly an arrow in the quiver of Lefties on the hunt for the slightest micro-aggression. The team’s travails were dramatized in the 1989 comedy Major League starring the pre-“winning” Charlie Sheen.
THE PRICE IS RIGHT: Can you name a famous Clevelander? Start with Superman creators Joe Shuster and Herry Siegel and… end with Price is Right host Drew Carey, a longtime booster who has touted the city and Ohio on his eponymous primetime sitcom. Maybe he’ll bring his gameshow back home for a special federal budget-themed episode.
REALITY SHOW: Cleveland was in the news last year after the discovery that three young women had been held captive by Ariel Castro for more than a decade. Castro’s house has since been demolished, and he committed suicide just months into a life sentence. Pictured, neighbor Charles Ramsay enjoys his 15 minutes of fame.
UP IN THE AIR: While the GOP convention will likely be held elsewhere in town, the Cleveland IX Center, a former aerospace hangar, is one of the largest convention centers in the world, and houses an amusement park with the world’s tallest indoor ferris wheel, more than 120 feet tall.
STAMP OF APPROVAL: Far be it from conservatives to rubber-stamp any government spending or regulation, but they might just take a shine to the giant “Free Stamp,” a 28-foot tall sculpture in Willard Park near downtown. CLIMATE CHANGE BONUS: It was commissioned by Standard Oil!
ROCK OF AGES: Cleveland landed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, opening the music mecca in 1995 and attracting large crowds for the annual induction ceremonies. Presumably Fleetwood Mac will not be available to perform since they lent Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow to the Dems in ’92. And we all know what happened after that...
HELLO CLEVELAND!: Any big city will have its share of cinematic jokes at its expense. The catchphrase “Hello Cleveland!” comes from the 1984 comedy Spinal Tap, where the fictional British rock band gets hopelessly lost backstage at a Cleveland performance, repeatedly thinking they are about to find their way out. Sort of like enduring a Congressional conference committee.
HANG ON SLOOPY: Three music items in a row! You might want to learn the lyrics to this 1965 hit single from the McCoys, which is played at home games for the Browns, Cavaliers, and Indians, and is even now making its way through the Ohio House to become the official state rock song.
Updated: Jul. 11, 2014

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