My whole life, I’ve lived in, and loved, cities scorned by the national media.
Comedian John Oliver, on his new HBO show, was the latest to cheap shot Philly. Doing a riff on transparently ridiculous statements, he included this one: “Philadelphia is a center of culture.” I love you, John, but really …?
(The typical anti-Philly barbs are so stale and counterfactual. Yeah, yeah, snowballs at Santa Claus. Except that was once, 50 years ago, and it was a drunken substitute Santa who said afterward even he would have given himself a pelting for being so lame.)
Before moving to Philly, I lived in Easton, Pa., which even its modestly larger sister cities to the west, Bethlehem and Allentown, regard as the armpit of the Lehigh Valley. At the time I lived there happily, Easton hosted many national media visitors because native son Larry Holmes was the heavyweight boxing champion.
The champ never got his due because he wasn’t as glib as Muhammad Ali. And part of the standard media slam on Holmes was to make fun of the gritty little city where he chose to live. Holmes made millions as a boxer, but he always came back to Easton for one reason. It was home.
And now, LeBron James, the best basketball player on earth, has made a similar choice – abandoning the pastel glamour of South Beach to bring his talents back to the shores of Lake Erie. To come home.
To my native city, Cleveland. The Mistake by the Lake. The banks of the burning river. The home of unequaled sports torment.
Since Friday, national pundits have been swooning over James’ eloquent letter explaining why he is reversing his ham-handed decision of four years ago. I swooned, too, as I read what he wrote, with seeming sincerity, about wanting to to help build a new sense of hope for Northeast Ohio.
In this, LeBron is in a way part of a larger trend. He is after all, generationally a Millennial. Nationwide, this demographic group has been flocking to cities, fleeing stale suburban calm – seeking cities’ sense of connection, creativity, history and grit, and in turn infusing them with new energy.
Miami is, of course, a city, too – but its story is written in sunshine and bold colors. Even LeBron James, the Chosen One, has realized he finds more meaning in a place that mixes snow with sunshine, a place that runs on struggle, where history has weight, where everybody isn’t from somewhere else, where place matters, loyalty is prized, and you fight for everything you get.
A place, in other words, very much like Philadelphia.
I moved away from Cleveland decades ago, but spiritually I’ve barely moved an inch. I like my cities with a side of grit. So, too, apparently does the King.
Yeah, LeBron, I was furious at you. But all is forgiven. Welcome home.