Sunday, July 13, 2014

LeBron's return - icing on the cake

It was inevitable, I suppose, that I would comment on what’s been hyped as the Cleveland news story of the century (which, I remind all, is only 14 years old): LeBron James is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

I am neither elated nor particularly surprised by his return. The story of LeBron’s departure, self-discovery, and return to the home of his birth is neither revelatory nor especially unique. Even as he made the announcement four years ago that caused Cavaliers fans to set his jersey alight, I thought "he'll be back". I know of countless people who left Northeast Ohio, only to return when they realized much of the rest of the country is too expensive, too congested, and populated with people less friendly than we.

I’m one of those boomerangs. I left the Cleveland area, fresh out of high school, for New England. For nine years, I studied, struggled, sowed my wild oats, loved, had my heart broken, enjoyed a brief taste of success, experienced failure, and generally learned those facts of life which weren’t taught in school. Family obligations brought about my return to Cleveland, and when I came back, I had an air of condescension along with a new assertiveness that bordered on abrasiveness – the result of living nine years in greater Boston. The place, like any place, rubs off on you.

 A year before I returned to Cleveland, I visited to bury my mother. Even through my grief I could discern the beginning stages of the rebirth of downtown Cleveland. That rebirth continued in starts and stops over two decades, and in the four years before “the Chosen One” announced his return, became a juggernaut. That’s why I object to the notion, perpetrated by the national media, that LeBron James' return is single handedly "rescuing" Cleveland's economy. Rescuing it from what? Cleveland’s decades long resurgence has continued whatever the performance of the local sports teams - and that recovery would have continued even if James' hadn't made his very welcome announcement. The national media's tendency to focus on one man merely betrays their ignorance of anything that happens in flyover country. There's more to America than the I-95 corridor on one side and California on the other, and in the final analysis, James’ return is icing on the cake.

I have blogged before concerning my reservations about how Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have given away the store to recruit/retain professional athletic franchises. Despite my happiness at LeBron James’ return, I continue to hold those opinions. Sports teams are only one aspect of downtown development. First Energy Stadium has a capacity of 71,516. Last season, the Browns played 16 games, about half of which were played at home. Assuming the stadium is filled to capacity, that’s about 572,000 visitors over the course of a year. That’s the equivalent of 2,200 employees working in Cleveland five days a week – a figure which is easily accomplished if Cleveland’s civic leaders put their minds to it. As I've said elsewhere, Cleveland needs to do a better job of recruiting businesses, in which people come downtown for work every day.  George Voinovich really blew it when he wouldn't play ball with Peter Lewis, who wanted to build Progressive's headquarters downtown - and there are other examples. It's all very nice that Progressive’s east side employees can enjoy an easy commute to Mayfield Village, not so nice for those on the west side. That is but one of many examples. But enough griping about the past. We can file that under “lessons learned”.

 On behalf of the boomerang club: Welcome home, LeBron.  At least his return is a distraction from that annoying Johnny Manziel.

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