Editor’s note: Eric is an unrepentant Cleveland sports addict, and in his own words, “finds it impossible to separate the fan from the unbiased observer” within himself. With that in mind, on March 10 we sent him to “LeBron James: He Never Left,” a joint luncheon hosted by the Akron Area PRSA and the Akron Press Club. Here’s what he took away from the luncheon:
Attaching one’s emotions to any team is a wholly irrational endeavor. There is no middle ground, only extremes: the thrill of victory and agony of defeat. Love and loss. LeBron. And no LeBron. There is nothing unbiased about sports. And everything, including a PRSA luncheon in Akron, is extreme.
When you’re LeBron James and you want to start a sports marketing agency with your best friends, you call it LRMR (LeBron, Rich, Maverick, Randy) and open shop in the city you play for and get about getting out. Call Bristol. Cue Jim Gray. Standby kids in three… two…
So here I am, seated in a banquet hall in Akron four years after “The Decision” attending an event called “LeBron James: He Never Left.” And I’m astonished to learn LeBron never left Akron. It’s true. It’s LRMR telling me, and they would know. I’m excited but alarmed. HOW did I miss this?! You follow the Cavs since grade school and you’d think…
But LeBron never left. Who knew?
Not this fan.
Of course LeBron’s contributions to the city, to its youth, are well known and widely celebrated. Two things LeBron loves: Akron and kids. Some get tickets to the game. Some get a bike. Others settle for a college education. Because LeBron loves kids. And Akron. And that’s awesome. That never changed. It never will.
So he never left, you see.
But he did, says me.
“The Decision” raised $6 million for the Boys and Girls Club of America… I’m reminded between bites of cold beef. LeBron’s just a kid from Akron… The rice makes a nice recovery though. It’s about loyalty… a steamed carrot escapes my attempts to skewer it. Striving for greatness… Damn, missed again. He went away to college… Seriously though?! SIX MILLION DOLLARS!… SUCCESS!
LeBron came home, so I came to lunch. In Akron. To hear LRMR. To learn more. Or I hoped. Instead we had leftovers. Which explains the beef.
There’s no doubt “The Letter” absolved the sin of “The Decision.” And in sports, winning rights all wrongs. And right now, all is right with the Cavs. With Cleveland. With LeBron. We could win it all. THIS year.
But the scar lingers. As it should. Because LeBron DID leave Akron. And Cleveland. And Canton. And Youngstown. And Euclid. And Mansfield. And Strongsville. And Kent. And Parma. And on. And on. And on…
And that’s okay.
Over 12 years, LRMR has cast a philanthropist, created a destroyer and crafted a redeemer—constructing each persona with only the greatest care. Yet with James, the line between the persona and the person remains stark. We all know LeBron. But only a few know LeBron.
And now I know today will be no different. We scratch the surface yet again, learning what makes the man great without learning the man. After all the cheers and jeers and tears, I suppose I expected more — to see the shield lowered at last, just a little. We’re in Akron after all, among friends. But we’re not having it. LeBron is great and loyal and generous and home. And that’s all you’re getting.
So I challenge you this, LRMR: Give us the final evolution of King James. Give us the individual. The person. Our persona. Give us, us.
LeBron is us. A kid from Akron who loves basketball. I’m a kid from Canton who loves baseball. There are millions like us. Because in Northeast Ohio sports are an identity. And in Cleveland, a cause. From steelyards to backyards. In stadiums and streets. We swing, and miss. We kick, and miss. We shoot, and miss. Because we know, one day, we’ll make it.
LeBron shot, and missed. He left. And then, one day, he made it. Because we knew he would. He’s one of us.
More than Akron or Cleveland. More than McDonald’s, Sprite or Samsung. More than bicycles and Beats™ by Dre. More than an All-Star or MVP. More than Jay-Z. More than awards and honors. Letters, decisions and donations. More than loyalty and greatness, even.
LeBron is hope. Pure and simple, hope. Six feet, eight inches and 250 pounds of inspiration. A triple-double in confidence, conviction and courage. Fate’s perfect response to 50 years of failure. The return on emotional investment Northeast Ohio has waited for. Our happy ending.
And imperfect as they come. As we all come. And that’s okay now. THAT’S the LeBron I want to know about. THAT’s the LeBron I’m still waiting for, but slowly seeing signs of, on and off the court (Don’t think ditching the head band doesn’t mean it’s time to get serious for Cleveland).
Put down the shield and show me the dings and dents “The Letter” started to reveal. Tell me more about the motivations behind this recent picture from the team plane… THAT’S the LeBron I want to know. If I came from Akron, and played for Cleveland, and could end “The Curse”… I’d take THAT photo. Why did LeBron? Well… I don’t really know.
And I won’t know. At least not yet. Not today. Here at lunch with LRMR. In Akron. Where LeBron never left.
And that’s okay.
Eric Knappenberger is Senior Content Architect at AKHIA, and @CavsWITNESS on Twitter.