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You Wouldn't Get It . . .

June 16, 2017

“What is your greatest fear as you start your career?”

 

A young Lebron James thinks over the question. At the point in his career in which the interview took place, he hadn’t yet developed his characteristic public shrewdness. At this point in his career, he was still vulnerable to being vulnerable.

 

“Well, I think my greatest fear is not accomplishing OTHER people’s dreams.”

 

 

Other people’s dreams.

 

 

You wouldn’t get it.

 

He was still a boy, like me, the first time I saw him play live.  

 

 

Growing up against a Northeast Ohio backdrop, Lebron James didn’t really make sense.  He was different, and you could see it immediately. He was young and full of limitless potential.  

 

Watching him play then, as a fifteen year old child still figuring out his adult body, we all knew that it was only a matter of time before Lebron would ascend middle America to battle with titans. He was bound for bright lights and big stages. His great days were ahead of him.  We were the exact opposite.

 

You wouldn’t get it.

 

In Northeast Ohio, the pursuit of the ideal is a burdensome affair, hampered by constant reminders of our unique reality. Go downtown. You can see it.

 

Cleveland is lonely, dark, and dying.  

 

It didn’t really make sense that Lebron was from where we were from. He was Hercules born up through Akron’s gray skies and melancholy nostalgia.   He was different, and he was beautiful.  For these reasons, it was only a matter of time before he would leave us.

 

Beautiful things don’t stay in Northeast Ohio.

 

You wouldn’t get it.

 

I remember how we used to argue about what team Lebron would dominate the world with as we tried to fill left over pages of local newspapers. Would he recreate the Jordan years in Chicago? Would he take over Kobe’s Lakers? Would he bring New York back to glory?

 

Even in our fantasies, we were ever aware of our reality.  Lebron, even if by accident, was blessed by God, and we were not. He didn’t belong.

 

But he sounded like us when he talked. And he moved like us when he walked. He understood the Ohio values of grind and toughness. And his social circle extended to people that we knew or people that people that we knew, knew.  

 

I was skinny, insecure, and regular on the basketball court, but I understood things Lebron understood about dreary, snow-driven nights on a Friday in Northeast Ohio.  And I played on courts and against colors that he did. And I understood the wall that always seemed to be closed to greatness and immortality if you were from Northeast Ohio.

 

You wouldn’t get it.

 

 

 

Last night, it was more than just a championship.

 

It was Jose Mesa in Game 7.  It was Shawn Kemp’s growing obese in a Cavaliers jersey. It was Ricky Davis’ shooting on the wrong basket to try to get a triple-double. It was Craig Ehlo being shown on every Michael Jordan montage tape, ever.  It was Johnny Manziel and Kellen Winslow.

 

It was our acceptance of our hometown as an adjective, “That’s soooo Cleveland!” It was our brilliant failure that has caused us to accept our lowered expectations as our reality, placing phrases like “Well, it’s Cleveland so something bad will happen in the playoffs” as easily into common parlance as “We need to rebuild the city of Cleveland” or “Cleveland is so dismal in this category, we need a complete renovation,” or “One day we will come back.”

 

You wouldn’t get it.

 

I remember Austin Carr crying when we drafted him.  Other people’s dreams.  

 

I remember the look in my dad’s eyes as he described The Drive, The Fumble . . . the Gospel-truth from the mouth of the man I worshipped– “Cleveland always finds a way to punish us for our devotion.” Other people’s dreams.

 

I remember the way grown men used to talk about a 15 year old boy from Akron. He was the only hope that our regular, dismal city had to ever arrive at glory.  We couldn’t do it ourselves. We were too crippled, broken down, and rusted.  We didn’t have it. But maybe you do, little Lebron. Please accomplish our dreams? Other people’s dreams.

 

He was a man, like me in Miami, the last time I saw him before he rode back into Cleveland, back into the grey.

 

I had moved there for a piece of glory, adventure, “other,” that I had given up trying to find in Cleveland. I had left my family, my uncles, my cousins, and my friends to their hopes and dreams for greatness. I needed to play on a bigger stage. Other people’s dreams.

 

He was walking down one of our beautiful palm-tree-lined streets in Miami when I saw him two years ago. He had a new walk then, complete with a statesmen-like posture. Gone was the chip on his shoulder that he carried before the Akron Beacon Journal reporters so many years ago. Before Buchtel, and Hoban, and Poland High School. He was a man.  Serious, brooding even.  

Against the beautiful backdrop of Miami, in completely contrasting fashion, everything about Lebron made sense in that moment.  In Miami, he could spread his wings. He could shine in the bright light he was born to inhabit.  His wealth and accomplishment had earned him skyscrapers and ocean drives.   

 

You wouldn’t get it.

 

Yet, a few days later, he gave that all up–for those I had left behind. For my grandfather and my uncle, who have sincerely and unapologetically implored the heavens, “Please, one more championship before I go.”  For the sons, daughters, and granddaughters who wished it so. For the old men who had been born into the culture of afterwaves of Red Right 88 and the departure of the Browns. After all, he wasn’t like me. He was different.

 

For the terrible weather, the rust-filled streets, the good catholic school kids, and the YMCA youth league. For the little boys and girls of Akron, who grew up wanting to be just like him.  Other people’s dreams.

 

He went back for 12 year old me, measuring his height on his closet door with his #2 pencil, scraping ice off his driveway, hoping to find some of the magic that gave him wings. Other people’s dreams.

 

Unless you were there, listening that day in a small, beatdown gym in Akron, as grown men laid their dreams, disappointments, failures, and hopes at the feet of a fifteen year old boy; unless you could feel fifty years of expectations thrust onto his shoulders; unless you understood what it meant for Lebron to be born at the base of a mountain that an entire city full of people would ask him to climb (often without any help or power to do so), unless you knew the look in our faces as he did it, for us—
You wouldn’t get it.

 

 

 

 

 

Long live the King.

 

 

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