LeBron James has made the journey; now he wants to go home

By Ludy Astraquillo Ongkeko, Ph.D.

Speaking about “Changing America,” the landscape on sports figures has been changing, thanks to top stars’ decisions sparked by their respective termination contracts outside their official hometowns and residences.

LeBron James, until lately, one of the superheroes of the Miami Heat that won two championships in four years (led by Eric Spoelstra, a Filipino American head coach), announced he was returning home.

‘Home,’ as identified by James, one of the most celebrated heroes in the National Basketball Association (NBA), is Northeast Ohio. Ohio is the state where James started his professional career as a Cleveland Cavalier.

Paradoxically, the same James personified an ego-driven personality when, four years ago, he was described as having abandoned his Ohio team as he went for ‘glamour and riches’ and joined the aforementioned Miami Heat. When he did just that, “leaving Ohio,” James’ action was the subject of derision. Indeed, tremendous umbrage. Each time he played against the Ohio home team in his own state, James was consistently booed by the fans he left behind.

This time, James’ return as opposed to his ‘departure’ when he left his native state is devoid of any kind of revelry. He made a simple announcement observers were quick to say: a star athlete’s ‘grace and humility’ that likewise mounted with his rare abilities. Most strikingly, no figures relating to compensation have surfaced thus far.

A letter, recounting the James’ decision was sent to a sports publication’s writer who shared it with general readership.

Here are some excerpts:

“Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It is where I walked. It’s were I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart…My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball.

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

“The October Fair,” an unpublished posthumous publication by the famed American writer, Thomas Wolfe, talked about the changing American Society in 1940.

In going through the above-mentioned letter by LeBron James, any reader of the Wolfe novel doesn’t need to be reminded of its theme: “You can’t go home again!”

It is a contradiction. Nevertheless, an explanation is behind it.

Wolfe expounded on that theme to make the reader understand how, when one has left “your country town or provincial backwater city for a sophisticated metropolis, you cannot return to the narrow confines of your previous way of life, and more generally, attempts to relive youthful memories will always fail.”

How about those from Inang Bayan who excelled in their chosen lines of profession abroad, carving out their specific achievements through dint of talent and hard work, rewarded too by their earned opulence?

Yet, despite all the acclaim given them, they didn’t hesitate to go home where they felt they could serve their birthplace far better because one distinct rationale told them ‘home is where they belong!’ Doesn’t Wolfe’s explanation on how one can’t go home again remind us about biographical accounts of the homeland’s greatest national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal?

Rizal always felt the magnetic pull of home so strongly. He was culled into remembrances of home, the motherland. He remembered it with ‘such blazing accuracy.’ It did not matter if his native land was a colonized country. He had the scenes of the immortal hills in his vision: those meant ‘home.’ Why did he return to his homeland when he could have stayed away?

Too, Rizal was a medical doctor, putting his knowledge to great use. He knew what it was to live in other continents, learning their languages. Sadly, Rizal’s life was cut short by coming home. It stemmed from his very own decision, no one else’s.

‘Elsewhere’ could never be home to Rizal.

Returning to LeBron James’ decision, although that has been called a ‘modern’ one, there is an ancient ring to it.

James has made the journey. He decided to return home where he is today. Does that mean the great NBA sports figure defies Thomas Wolfe’s famous: “You Can’t Go Home Again!”

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