I hear so much talk about this issue I can't help but want to know what other's thoughts are on this matter.
My personal opinion here is that while greener pastures in the form of a larger market and bigger paycheck may appear to await in places like New York or New Jersey, LeBron James would be doing himself a huge disservice by signing elsewhere when his contract expires at the end of the 2009-2010 season.
I understand the benefit of a larger market for a superstar athlete, but at the same time I also put a lot of stock in the idea of hometown pride. It's my belief that as far as hometown pride is concerned we've gotten away from the concept.
Originally when sports leagues like the NBA, MLB, and NFL came to be, the idea-as with high school sports and college sports (as far as the last two are concerned the idea is still there although they're getting away from it) was that the city or area be represented by players and people from that area.
What's the point of hometown pride when the owner, coaches, and players aren't from the area? The idea of hometown pride to me is; this guy grew up here, he's from here, and now he's leading us to championships. Not, we paid the most for this athlete, and now that's made him one of us-at least until his contract expires.
There are very few players in any league that can say they play for their hometown team, the team they grew up cheering for.
I can think of a few off the top of my head; Ron Brace, recently drafted by the Patriots grew up in Worcester, Mass about 45 minutes West of Gillette, Rocco Baldelli currently plays for the Red Sox, and grew up in Woonsocket, RI-about a 20 minute drive from the PawSox stadium he's made a few starts in this season.
These are the only examples I can think of in my area (New England sports), there are many others throughout the leagues, but altogether too often we're represented by players who have nothing to do with our area.
At any rate, to get to my point, I can think of three highly talented NBA players who fit the bill of playing for their hometown team, LeBron is one of them.
The second is Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose who grew up in Chicago and now stars for the Bulls while the third is Chauncey Billups who now represents his hometown team of Denver after playing his college ball in Colorado as well.
In my opinion it would be an absolute travesty for Lebron to leave the state he grew up in. While he may not be from Cleveland itself, he's from Akron, Ohio and likely grew up feeling the defeats of the Cavs at times like when Jordan hit that shot over Ehlo.
He may have owned a Mark Price or Brad Dougherty jersey as a kid, he may have rejoiced the day the Browns began playing again in '99 after a three year hiatus to construct a new stadium.
The point is, when you're a sports guy and you grow up somewhere it's more than likely you bleed that team's colors. If you are a talented sports guy and end up playing on that team, it has to be fulfilling one of the biggest dreams any kid has, to play for their favorite team.
Who didn't play basketball or baseball as a kid and imagine being their favorite player taking your team to the championship and hitting that game-winning shot or home run?
Forget being a role player like Rocco Baldelli, or a brand new player like Ron Brace or Derrick Rose—imagine being a player like Lebron, the true savior to the team you grew up cheering for.
The guy who leads that team you watched fail so many times to the ultimate glory—the NBA finals, and likely a championship (if not this year at some point should he stay there past the summer of 2010).
Really, I guess all I can say, as a guy who has never been offered millions to appear in a commercial, hit a baseball, or throw a ball into a basket is that I can't imagine the amount of money it would take for me to not have been the guy to end the Red Sox streak of failure in the World Series.
Being from Mass, if I had grown up all my life watching them fail as I did, and been the guy to lead them when they went to and won the Series in 2004, well there's no amount of money that could have replaced what that would have felit like.
I think any other Boston fan would say the same, we know how it felt as fans—but if we had been the players or the stars on the team it would have been that much greater.
This is the only thing I can imagine that must come close to what Lebron is doing in Ohio. Sure the Cavaliers may not have as long a championship drought as the Sox did—despite the fact they've never won an NBA title—but I would bet it still would feel great for him.
Because even with all the money waiting, with all the adoring fans that would welcome his arrival elsewhere, at the end of the day as he said in his featured piece on Sports Reporters this morning; "This is the place, the city, the area that made me."