OK, so it’s hard to see any kinship between LeBron James (6-foot-9, NBA superathlete) and me (shrunk down now to 5-foot-10, college dorm intramural athlete a long time ago).
However, when James surprised me and a lot of other sports-minded folks a little more than a week ago by announcing that he’s going back to his hometown, he and I became kindred spirits. Fellow travelers. Bosom buddies.
You can go home again, James said, in defiance of famous Asheville novelist Thomas Wolfe. James’ impassioned elaboration in a “Sports Illustrated” magazine column brought a tear to the eye.
“It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled,” rhapsodized James in a “SI” column with collaboration by sports writer Lee Jenkins.
James is the best active basketball player on the planet, thus earning the overarching attention paid to his new NBA contract. He hails from Akron, Ohio.
In his column James called his hometown “Northeast Ohio” to encompass nearby Cleveland, where he will play for the NBA Cavaliers come fall. The Cleveland basketball arena is just 40 miles up I-77 from Akron. Close enough.
If you’re confused, think of Stephen Harris announcing he’s playing for his “hometown” Charlotte Hornets even though I’m from here, not Charlotte. OK, so that’s not the most plausible analogy available. Pardon me.
Anyway, when James announced his decision, I paid the most attention to what he wrote about his hometown. It sounded like my hometown.
“It holds a special place in my heart,” he said. “People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. …
“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball.”
I raised a few eyebrows when I made the decision one time to leave a good newspaper job in Raleigh to come back here to my hometown. My decision, though, was not reported in “Sports Illustrated.”
As an only child, I had to decide after Dad died what to do with the house here. I took an entire summer to decide. I decided to come back home.
It was a risk. I didn’t have any work waiting for me here.
The move did look a bit better some years later when the newspaper company downsized and eliminated its state capital bureau. (Yes, I did see it coming.) My successor there lost his job and ended up leaving traditional newspapering.
I came back to the hometown because this is where, to borrow again from the words of James, I walked, ran, cried and bled. (My kneecap hit a rock in a minor motorcycle wreck one time on Mining Ridge Church Road.)
By coming back I got to reconnect with family and some old friends. I got to reconnect with mountains and summer sunsets viewed from the porch.
I found good people still here as well as a good spirit. I learned some more family history and got to reconnect with the land of my forebears.
I’ve adopted a theme song for these “Hometown” columns. It’s a new song recorded by country singer Eric Church, who was born and reared two counties to the west in the town of Granite Falls, which is about the size of Elkin.
The song, “Give Me Back My Hometown,” is rather glum and haunting. The dark video for the song doesn’t connect with me at all. I have no idea if Church feels about his hometown as the song and video portrays.
I prefer to focus on the more neutral chorus:
These sleepy street lights on every sidewalk, side street
Shed a light on everything that used to be
Give … me … back … my … hometown, ‘cause this is my … HOME-town
No, I did not come back to find the same hometown, nor did I expect or want to find it the same. I found things changed. People were different, had grown up or grown older and had moved along the course of life.
But I did come back to find things here still good, still pleasant, still charming. I found myself comfortable here for the first time in a while.
Again, to quote LeBron James:
“There’s no better place to grow up. … Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get. … I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”
My bet is James and his family will like what they find. As I did.
And hey, LeBron, Eric. When you two read this, give your ol’ bosom buddy here a call. Let’s talk hometowns.
Postscript: Speaking of Raleigh, The News and Observer newspaper there will make its picks for the best-kept secrets in Surry and Yadkin counties today. A month ago I picked the Amish community as Yadkin’s best-kept secret and the Mayberry tourist theme in Mount Airy for Surry. Let’s see if the Raleigh folks get it right.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.