David Hoppe

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:: LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony: Essayists

The hip move

by David Hoppe

Self expression went into overdrive last week. First it was LeBron James publishing (with an assist from writer Lee Jenkins) an “essay” on Sports Illustrated’s web site about why he was going to sign with his old team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given,” wrote James. “Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”

James was roundly praised for his decision — and for the classy way he made it public.

So it didn’t take long for Carmelo Anthony, the other big catch in this year’s crop of basketball free agents, to follow suit with “a first-person essay” of his own: “During this journey I met with some quality organizations who have amazing talent and leadership…I thank them for their consideration, belief in my talent, and opportunity to imagine the possibilities."

Somewhere Michel de Montaigne, the Frenchman who many believe invented the essay back in the 1500’s, must have been practicing his free throws.

The apparent need of these megabuck superstars to explain themselves in print was touching. Rarely do members of the One Percent deign to share their innermost thoughts with the rest of us. Usually it’s “like it or lump it.”

We’re a far cry from the days when basketball and other sports stars felt it necessary to augment their incomes by lending their names to used car dealerships, taverns or bowling alleys. Now professional athletes are right up there with hedge fund managers and investment bankers.

In LeBron James’ case, the dancing in the streets of Cleveland was inspired, in part, by the expectation that his return would not only give his team a better chance of winning, but create a ripple effect throughout the local economy, giving that city’s downtown a needed boost.

To his credit, something else was revealed in James’ essay. In “coming home,” James not only acknowledged a sense of personal obligation with his Northeast Ohio roots, he also affirmed the potential of this Midwestern place.

This is important.

For generations the story in cities like Cleveland and, for that matter, Indianapolis, was that to really make it in life, you had to go to one coast or the other. James says he felt this way himself — that’s why he went to Miami for four seasons.

But as the gulf between the One Percent and everyone else has widened, ambitious young adults in a wide array of fields have been priced out of coastal markets that were once were considered aspirational. They’re finding out that the real opportunities to grow professionally and make an impact are in medium-size cities.

Our bicoastal media doesn’t quite get this yet. They’ve spent their lives stressing themselves out to be where they think the action is. They remain invested in equating bigger with better.

 James could have sold his talents to any team. But his decision to return to Cleveland represents more than a triumph of sentiment. Like his essay, it’s a hip move.