Why You’re Never Too Big to Come Home

A son of Cleveland considers the return of LeBron James to his hometown—and why Ohio kids never really let go.

november 2014 WOLI lebron
Dan Winters for Reader’s Digest

I see ghosts. They’re friendly ghosts, and they are my teachers.

More than four decades after graduating, I returned to Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School in Cleveland. This time, I have an office. It is my old American history classroom, where Mr. Radican held court my junior year and told me that my attitude left a lot to be desired.

Now in my fourth year as a school administrator, I am a senior again. I looked up my permanent record—it really does exist, I discovered—and my rather unspectacular grades reflect my attitude issue. I’m confident I’ll do better this time.

Call it a second chance. Whatever this is, I am back home, and the feeling is amazing.

That’s why, when LeBron James announced he would leave the Miami Heat and return to his roots to play again for the Cleveland Cavaliers, I understood. What he said about his decision made perfect sense:

“Before anyone ever cared where I would play basket-ball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. 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.”

He compared his four-year adventure away with leaving home for college. Those of us he left behind get it. We wonder why no one else does.

For all the millions of words expressed about LeBron’s homecoming, here in Northeast Ohio, the most surprising thing about Decision 2.0 has been the spectacle of sputtering around the country.

The online comments are full of it (literally and figuratively). “Cleveland? Cleveland? Really, now … CLEVELAND?” But the title of LeBron’s Sports Illustrated essay announcing his return says it all: “I’m Coming Home.

Yeah, home. The best place in the world. We’re not just talking about Cleveland’s assets either: the museums, the symphony, the casinos, rock ’n’ roll, world-class health care.

Those are important, but the real point is how a town like Cleveland gets under your skin, how the sense of community, the convenience, the comfort and, yes, the beauty here far outstrip life in more fashionable cities. It cuts right to your heart.

In a way, Cleveland is our little secret. Out-of-town visitors—well versed in “Mistake on the Lake” horror stories—can’t believe how well we live here. And we know why LeBron feels like a member of the family. He is a member of the family.

He is devoted to his high school alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary, in nearby Akron. He met his wife, Savannah, there. Word is they’d like their children to go there too. They are generous to the school because it is where they came of age and developed their dreams.

I can identify. I met my wife at a dance in the gym where my school and LeBron’s still play each other in basketball. Sometimes those games end with his school ahead, sometimes with mine. Either way, the teams and the fans on both sides always walk away with their pride intact.

That’s the story of life here in Northeast Ohio. It explains why, after a 40-year career in journalism, I gladly—no, gratefully—answered the call to return to my alma mater, where I work under the watchful gaze of ghosts.

I see Mr. Radican in front of my office desk. He is standing at what once was a blackboard, shaking his head. I believe I detect a small but satisfied smile.

november headshots richard osborne
Joe McKendry for Reader’s Digest

Richard Osborne is the president of Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School in Cleveland and the former managing editor of Cleveland Magazine.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest