Those who know me well understand that I'm a huge sports fan. That's probably apparent to those who read my previous post on Sports and Community Development. Though I'm a fan of sports in general, I enjoy the NBA and college football the most. With the new NBA season underway, I had a few thoughts brought on by some off-season changes that I think will be interesting to everyone, whether you're a sports fan or not.
Raised in the city of Akron, LeBron James had played his early career in Cleveland. In the summer of 2010, after failing to lead the team to a championship, James announced his intention to leave Ohio to play with friends on the shores of South Beach. The split was anything but amicable, with hurt feelings all around. James' choice of a live television event to announce his departure Cleveland was a point of contention for Cavs fans and management. An angry open letter from management and videos of fans burning James jerseys affected LeBron. It looked like a divorce that would forever estrange Ohio from their once-favorite son.
And yet, over the summer something changed. After being obliterated by the Spurs in the NBA Finals, LeBron once again had to choose where he was going to play basketball. In a letter to Sports Illustrated, James wrote about his choice to return home to Ohio. After explaining some of the basketball-related reasons, he delved deeper.
"But this is not about the roster or the organization. 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."
While the ripple effects of this letter are only just beginning to be felt in the NBA, James' heart for uplifting his community is what struck me. For all his flaws, LeBron is a person who recognizes and embraces his ties to the place he lives. Those ties affect him both personally and professionally. Though I try not to place athletes on a pedestal, I can't help but admire the connection between James and his community.
All of this makes me wonder: what would it be like if more people were cognizant of their community ties? To be honest, I don't even know what that looks like a lot of the time. But for the sake of not leaving all the imaginative work to you, faithful blog reader, here are some ideas for more connected communities. At the end, I'd love to read some of your thoughts on what that could look like, or some concrete ways you're already seeing it happen.
The easiest piece I can picture is businesses, schools, and churches being more intimately involved with the neighborhoods that surround them. I already get to witness this happening in several neighborhoods, such as Star Dodge in Alameda, Woodson Center for Excellence in Stevenson, and Holiday Hills Baptist in Holiday Hills. When organizations realize the benefits of fully participating in their community, it really benefits everyone involved.
Beyond organizations, I picture families and individuals intentionally choosing to invest in a neighborhood over the long term. Instead of choosing to uproot and replant constantly, I can see such a benefit to choosing to remain in a neighborhood for a long time. In a world obsessed with improving and upgrading at every available opportunity, I can imagine a world filled with people more stable/grounded in a single place, allowing that grounding to ward off some of the materialism and need for more that steals so much of our peace.
I dream of people unleashing their gifts with and on the behalf of their neighbors. A neighborhood full of people eager to know each other, because they believe their lives will intertwine for many years to come. A community willing to work together to achieve mutual goals, becoming better and better as the years pass.