Today I woke up to a text from my aunt: “Lebron is back!!!”
As a native Clevelander, I can’t help but rejoice in today’s announcement that LeBron James, one of the best players in the NBA, is returning home. I’m not the biggest sports fan in the world — especially compared to some hardcore Cleveland fans out there — but I’ve been to plenty of Cavs, Indians and Browns games in my day, and the spirit is in me. LeBron’s decision is huge for the city, and I’m sure most Clevelanders will welcome him home with open arms.
LeBron’s leaving a beautiful place. I’ve been to Miami, and there’s no doubt it has great food, awesome beaches, fantastic culture and cool people. But Cleveland has all those things too, and much more.
Here’s what LeBron will be returning to when he heads back to the Big Plum (yes, that’s one of Cleveland’s nicknames).
1. Realness. Cleveland is not Miami. It never was and never will be. It is what it is. Obviously Miami has plenty of real people living real lives, but in terms of its image, Cleveland is just a humbler, down-to-earth place. It’s been kicked down plenty of times and is well aware of this. LeBron will be returning to a city that is easy to dismiss on the surface but impossible not to love when you get to know it.
When you leave downtown Cleveland — the Rock Hall, the stadiums, the theaters — you find the real place. It’s not about sports, although with three national sports teams, it is indeed a sports city, and the fans here are passionate. It’s not about rock ’n’ roll, even though people here do love good tunes, and the number of music venues proves it. As a city, it’s about the people. They’re hardened but easygoing, eccentric but unassuming.
2. Cleveland Metroparks. It can’t be said enough: Cleveland’s park system is an overlooked gem. It’s what outsiders ignore when they take jabs at the city. Clevelanders love the Metroparks, once dubbed the Emerald Necklace, and see it as a source of pride. Its deep forests, crooked rivers and steep ravines are the perfect places for LeBron to take his family — not to mention that Cuyahoga Valley National Park sits just south of the city, near Akron, Ohio, where LeBron was born.
3. Lake Erie and its seasons. Miami and Cleveland share one thing in common: beaches. And even if Cleveland’s lake is frozen over half the year, that only adds to its charm. You can watch the lake change with the seasons. The trees along it become vibrant and orange in fall. In the winter, strong winds and snow blow off the lake, yielding every kid’s dream, a snow day… maybe two, three or four.
4. Food, beer and the West Side Market. Cleveland has become a destination food city. Period. From cutting-edge, nationally acclaimed restaurants to hole-in-the-wall spots that have been around for years, the city is host to a vast selection of old-fashioned and ground-breaking cuisine. And it’s being discovered by more and more food lovers every year.
The classic cuisine has its roots in German, Polish and Eastern European countries, but don’t be fooled. You can find food here from all over the world. Middle Eastern food is particularly popular, given the city’s proximity to heavily-Arab south Michigan. Cleveland also has a Little Italy, a Chinatown and a hippie enclave with plenty of vegan fare, not to mention a slew of breweries and the West Side Market, a massive century-old indoor farmers' market.
5. Harvey Pekar and all that he represents. Harvey Pekar, a comic book writer who died back in 2010, is the quintessential Clevelander. If you want to know what Cleveland is at its heart, read his comics and see American Splendor, a 2003 film about his life starring Paul Giamatti. He perfected the comedy about nothing long before "Seinfeld" came along. What he wrote was about everyday life — insights on the ups and downs of working, playing and living. He’s the perfect ambassador for the city.
I could talk about Cleveland all day: The views of industry gone to naught. The beauty of Lake View Cemetery and its cavernous hills of headstones. Big Fun, a curiosity shop that is weird, wonderful and a staple of my childhood. All the art, history and science museums that you never hear mentioned when people talk about the Mistake on the Lake.
But I think Pekar sums up Cleveland and what LeBron will be coming back to in two lines: “I try and write the way things happen. I don’t try and fulfill people’s wishes.”
That is the Cleveland LeBron will find.