I happened to be driving across northeast Ohio when Lebron James made his Decision. We crossed the Pennsylvania border near Youngstown, made our way towards Lebron’s hometown of Akron, and then headed south towards Columbus.
We were on I-71 when Lebron finally said he was headed to Miami. People in northeast Ohio must have had their hearts ripped out. For me, it would be the equivalent of a pre-super bowl Peyton Manning skipping out on us Colts fans.
It would hurt like nothing else in sports.
The Decision though also made me sad. Driving last night, I started to think about the Bruce Springsteen song, Youngstown.
Them smokestacks reachin’ like the arms of God
Into a beautiful sky of soot and clay
Here in Youngstown
Here in Youngstown
Sweet Jenny I’m sinkin’ down
Here darlin’ in Youngstown
Well my daddy come on the Ohio works
When he come home from World War Two
Now the yard’s just scrap and rubble
He said “Them big boys did what Hitler couldn’t do.”
These mills they built the tanks and bombs
That won this country’s wars
We sent our sons to Korea and Vietnam
Now we’re wondering what they were dyin’ for
Cleveland. Akron. Youngstown.
Springsteen wrote the song after reading the now out of print photojournalist expose of Northeast Ohio’s de-industrialization, Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass. The deeply troubling book by photographer Michael Williamson and former Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Dale Maharidge tells the story of the 1980s and 1990s economic collapse through the vantage point of rapidly de-industrializing northeast Ohio, specifically Youngstown.
It is a sobering book and unfortunately it is an economic collapse that is still unfolding, despite even Lebron James. Cleveland lost more people in 2008-2009 than any other American city.
It was in the middle of this economic chaos that Lebron James was born. His mother was only 16 years old and his father an ex-con. Here’s how a New York Times article describes Lebron’s early life:
Between the ages of 5 and 8, James, the only child of a single mother, moved 12 times. For a while he boarded with another family, the Walkers, whom he now considers part of his fortunate karma. Akron, James writes, wasn’t even on the map in some of his schoolbooks, and already some of the Akron he remembers has vanished. His grandmother’s house on Hickory Street, where he was born, was condemned and bulldozed. The Elizabeth Park projects, where he lived for a while, were leveled and replaced with condos. What used to be a basketball court at the corner of Silver Street and Doyle is now a weedy vacant lot.
Lebron made it out but he won’t be playing in Cleveland anymore. That’s not the real tragedy.
The real tragedy is that we still have an economy that has alot of us on a journey to nowhere.