Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Magnetic Pull of Home

A week and a half ago, the sports world was jolted with the news that LeBron James, the best player in the National Basketball Association, would return to his home state Cleveland Cavaliers after a four year stint with the Miami Heat. To quickly recap for non-sports fans, James, who hailed from nearby Akron, had been drafted by Cleveland and had spent the first seven years of his career there before becoming a free agent in 2010. After being wined and dined by a number of hopeful teams, he proceeded to announce his choice on national television. With his words, "I'm taking my talents to South Beach..." he incurred the wrath of basketball fans everywhere (except Miami) and particularly Clevelanders who felt it was unnecessarily cruel to bolt his home state team in such a public and humiliating fashion. The owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert wrote a scathing open letter which among other things, blasted James as "cowardly", "narcissistic" and "self-promotional". Cavaliers fans held bonfires where his jersey and likeness were torched. For four years, he wore the proverbial black hat teaming up with two other superstars to go to the NBA Finals each year and winning the championship twice.

With such success over that four year period and such an acrimonious divorce with his former team, it came as a bit of a shock when the news came that he would be returning home. And he did so, in an amazingly thoughtful and heartfelt essay penned with Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins.

The essay covers his reconciliation with Dan Gilbert and how much he enjoyed his four years in Miami. He talks about his desire to win as many championships as possible. But what he makes clear is that he wants to go home. Some would argue that his decision is irrational, that the rancor and hatred from Dan Gilbert and the Cleveland fans as he departed essentially nuked the bridge of return. Others could point at an unproven team with a history of futility would tarnish his legacy and prevent him from earning the additional championships necessary to propel him into the same stratosphere of glory as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant. He left a brilliant basketball mind in Pat Riley (with six championship rings) to hitch his wagon with a General Manager and Head Coach with less than three months combined of NBA experience. So why in the world would he do such a thing?

As he stated plainly, "This is what makes me happy."

He has reasons, sure. He wants to raise his growing family near his hometown. He wants to bring a championship to Cleveland and he wants to see the people of northeast Ohio to be proud of where they live. And he wants others to follow his example and stick around to make a difference. But as he says, "This is what makes me happy."

I can relate with that. Home often has this irresistible pull which draws us back to it, even against reason and rational thinking. In the same way LeBron chose the struggling rust belt of northeast Ohio over the glitz and glamour of South Beach, home draws people from prestige to provincial, from higher to lower "quality of life", from lower to higher costs of living and from temperate to uncomfortable climates. Home draws people from sophistication to simplicity, from beauty to blandness and even from leisure to struggle. Like many matters of the heart, it's not easily understood.

Shortly after I came to Houston, I wrote a blog post about the concept of home. I still believe I'm where I should be today. But like LeBron and anyone else who lives apart from the place where they (in LeBron's words) would say: "It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart," there will always be that pull.