LeBron James’ Reunion With Cleveland Touches on Midwest’s ‘Brain Drain’

By Jamilah King Jul 11, 2014

After weeks of holding the sports world hostage, LeBron James has finally announced that he’s returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. In a touching letter published in Sports Illustrated, James listed the intensely personal reasons for wanting to return to the place that raised him and, in the process, managed to sound like most young folks of his generation who want to make an impact.

 I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, 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. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.

In this, James isn’t exactly alone. Census data indicate that the state of Ohio may finally be reversing a decades-long brain drain as young people between the ages of 20 and 34 remain in the state. (James, who is 29, likened the four years he spent in Miami as "almost like college for other kids.")

Cleveland is known as a city that’s suffered countless heartbreaks in sports, chief among them James’ 2010 decision to take his talents to South Beach. But that heartache has often meant more in a city that’s also been decimated by industrial decline. When the Republican National Committee announced that it had chosen to host its 2016 convention in Cleveland, a spurned Dallas Morning News’ editorial board wrote, "Still, no matter how much fun you have, when you wake up, you’ll still be in Cleveland."

But it looks like more and more, Cleveland is the place to be.