There and Back Again

July 11th, 2014 by Tom Pestak
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“I want kids in Northeast Ohio to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile.” -LeBron James

–I’ve noticed little things. He seemed more comfortable in his own skin. More resolute about his game. He respected his foes and disposed of them without fanfare. When he lost to the Spurs I was taken aback at how calm he was. He seemed genuinely happy for Tim Duncan. He made no excuses – the Spurs were superior. He praised their approach, which, really, would be his approach, if that were possible. That moment changed my rational characterization of LeBron James. And what a contrast. (My mind flashes to the Dirk coughing episode)–

I’m not sure how much LeBron changed between 2010 and today. But I do know that drastic and permanent change is possible in such a short timeframe. A man’s 20s is the most dynamic period of his life. The enormous transition from institutionalized childhood to the distorted lifestyles of higher education to family-building and career growth can occur in just four years. A 26-year-old can look back at his 22-year-old self and wonder how someone so dumb survived. And a 30-year-old can look back at his 26-year-old self and wonder how someone could believe he was so smart.

 

I am married with two children, was born in 1984, grew up on 80s cartoons, love video games, went to a Catholic High School in suburban NE Ohio, and I love basketball. Other than that, I don’t share much in common with LeBron James, I guess. There was only one constant during my tumultuous 20s – LeBron James in Cavalier garb. In 2003, when the Cavs won the lottery, I screamed up and down my dorm hallway like a madman (my freshman year).   LeBron and the Cavs set out on a journey. He was always there, growing, amidst a reshuffling of teammates, coaches, GMs, even owners. I was growing too, while I shuffled between rental housing, girlfriends, and internships. I was in school for 8 years. The week I was to defend my thesis was the same week the Cavs were eliminated in the 2010 playoffs. I was under so much stress that my body stopped digesting food. In less than a month I defended my thesis, started my career, and got married. During that same month, LeBron left Northeast Ohio and it was devastating.

 

I took me 4 years to emotionally purge The Decision from my psyche. The restlessness required to pen the following words:

“And LeBron’s “decision” would be the ultimate endorsement or indictment of our beloved home.”

had finally washed away. I was forced to realize that my family, my community, my faith, and the things I’d been building and growing were real, within my grasp, and requiring my dedication. Amazingly (I know), I transcended to a higher state of being – no longer requiring a stranger to affirm my city, my state, my team.  To the outsiders, I  “got over it.”

 

And now, much like that explosive month back in 2010, everything has changed again. I’ve come full circle. The cynic in me, never more insufferable than the last few nights, is being purged. LeBron James reminded me why I cared so much in the first place. He reminded me not to be ashamed of having a passion for, and drawing happiness from, a game.

 

This season has followed the most unpredictable sequences of events that I have ever witnessed. Since being dubbed the #seasonOfHuh by Ben Cox for now insignificant things like “struggling to inbound the ball”, it has raged out of control in a fiery inferno. The NBA landscape seems unrecognizable.   The Cavs winning the lottery with those miniscule odds seemed so utterly ridiculous at the end of that season. And now, LeBron James is returning to Northeast Ohio to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. (!)

 

And yet! They pale in comparison to the most remarkable thing of all. Despite all these events, despite all our incredulity, despite all the odds, despite LeBron coming home – something just happened that none of us, not even the most wildly imaginative, could have believed:

 

In less than 1000 words, LeBron James made everything right.

 

 

 

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