View Full Version : LeBron James: To Stay or To Leave...?

06-16-2010, 04:28 PM
This is about Lebron James. And it's written by a kid from Akron. From the Wall Street Journal:


LeBron James and the identity of place

By David Giffels

Published on Wednesday, Jun 16, 2010

As one of the few people in the history of professional basketball to have gone straight from Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School to the Cleveland Cavaliers (ball boy, 1981-82), I have been following the LeBron James saga with keen interest.

Very few celebrities, and especially few sports celebrities, recognize their own narrative. That's because most of them have their narratives crafted by publicists, agents, newspaper columnists and ESPN segment producers before they ever have a chance to sort it out for themselves. The savvy ones play to the story line, simple as it may be, and most of them come out looking about the same. Very few of those stories seem special, and when they do, they transcend. (See: Clay, Cassius.)

But so far, it has seemed to me that James does understand his narrative and its value, not to marketing, but to himself. A young man born to a teenage, single mom in the trough of the Rust Belt finds his game on the local playgrounds, migrates with his band of schoolyard friends to a local high school, is dubbed a superstar by his sophomore year and . . . well, so far this could be any one of dozens of promising athlete backstories.

But that's where this plot rises and turns. Upon graduation, James enters the draft and, in a place where nothing related to local professional sports ever goes right, the lottery ping pong ball bounces our way and the local team, the Cavaliers, wins James with the first pick of the 2003 draft.

This is where ''destiny'' enters and the documentarian salivates. But intriguingly, James doesn't play to that. Like all good storytellers, he sticks to the organics. He makes a subtle distinction between Cleveland, where the team plays, and Akron, his real home, the one place that truly means something to him. He does this not to denigrate Cleveland, but, I believe, because he understands the precise importance of place and identity.

The two cities are only 35 miles apart, and the differences between them are subtle enough that nonnatives wouldn't recognize them or care even if they did. But James makes the distinction all the time. He is not just from a place, he is of it. Tattooed down the front of his considerable right forearm, in chunky script, are the digits ''330'' the Akron area code.

It's sense of place, writ large.

Cities like Akron have delicate, intricate identities. We're used to being misunderstood and it's a matter of our nature to define ourselves constantly, to rehearse internally our civic narrative, to gather our voices like Seussian Whos crying out, ''We are here!''

Those who do this and not everyone does, as I've learned after living here long enough do so because this story of our place has become the story of ourselves, and understand that once we know ourselves, we can make better sense of the world. In a book I co-wrote about the history of Akron's rubber industry, I quoted Eudora Welty: ''To know one place well is to know all places better.''

My long experience as an Akronite and as an observer of James the Local tells me that he shares this approach.

Just in the past year, James participated exuberantly in the release of a documentary film about his high school years, More Than a Game, and he enlisted one of America's finest sportswriters, Buzz Bissinger, to co-write his memoir, Shooting Stars.

Neither of these stories ceded to myth. They stuck to James' understanding of himself. Bissinger recently wrote in the New York Times that he thinks James needs to break his local ties in order to fully realize himself. I disagree.

I think James is one of the few superstars who came to his self-realization early and independently. As we are wont to do in Akron, he constantly tends this sense of identity.

Akron was known for most of the 20th century as the Rubber Capital of the world, then as a cornerstone of the Rust Belt, and has been in an active state of reinvention since around the time James was born. Little comes easy here, and if you stick around long enough you come to recognize that as an ironic fringe benefit. Few superstars ever have the chance to linger long enough anywhere let alone in deep-rooted reality to come to such understanding. Partly by fate, James has been granted that opportunity.

In the next few days, someone will win the NBA title. It happens every year. It was supposed to be Cleveland, but things went wrong, and here in Northeast Ohio we understand that's part of the story. Something always goes wrong, but we stubbornly persevere. It's part of who we are.

The story of the championship will be important for a while to sports fans, important for a little longer to the players and coaches, and important for only a fleeting moment to the larger culture. Only once in a rare while does the story mean anything more. James can win anywhere. But if he stays true to his goal of leading Northeast Ohio to its first major pro sports title since 1964, his story will transcend.

Much has been made of which city James will chose in free agency. As he makes his choice the choice of place he has the opportunity to write his narrative larger, to define the home that has defined him, to persevere stubbornly, and in so doing, to give greater meaning to his own self. Bissinger recommends New York, calling it ''the greatest city in the world.'' I love New York too, but Bissinger is wrong. The greatest city in the world is the one you know as home.
Giffels, a former Akron Beacon Journal columnist, teaches creative nonfiction writing and literature at the University of Akron. He is the author of All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-down House. He is writing a Rust Belt memoir to be published next year by William Morrow/Harper Collins. Visit www.davidgiffels.com.

06-16-2010, 10:27 PM
How many more lequit threads do there need to be on the same subject?

06-17-2010, 07:48 AM
It doesn't seem to matter...you'll post up a pile of dogshit in any thread on the subject...

06-17-2010, 08:31 AM

06-17-2010, 09:02 AM
How many more lequit threads do there need to be on the same subject?

This is the 3rd thread on LeBron, and the other 2 were NOT started by suitanim. If there's no problem with those, then there shouldn't be a problem with this one. However, I hope that there will be more NBA talk here than just all Lebron, all the time.