NBA title won’t revitalize Cleveland Yes, I want Cavs to win, but city needs much more

I always get in trouble writing about my hometown. But after a recent visit, I couldn’t help but reflect on the reality, the hype and LeBron James.

I was shocked when I came back in March. I had just quit my job as editor of the Denver Post. My daughters, who had not been to Cleveland in seven years, begged me to take them to see their grandmother and other relatives for spring break. My mom and others visit us in Denver, but as 13- and 12-year-olds, my daughters desired being on my home turf. It was important for them to see the city through their maturing eyes. They craved knowing from whence I came. So off we went.

It was great to see relatives and friends. But in other ways, being back home was painful.

I was shocked at how down on its heels the inner East Side and close-in suburbs were.

Streets were rutted with potholes, I mean bombed-out. So much so that knowing drivers avoided whole stretches of road I unknowingly ventured down. It took five minutes to navigate a short passage I knew well from my youth.

There were houses whose chimneys had collapsed on themselves, homes dilapidated and abandoned right next to the only occupied house on the street. My old neighborhoods in Cleveland and East Cleveland were sagging under the weight of neglect.

I couldn’t believe it. Silently, I drove through whole stretches of the city trying to absorb the devastation and abandonment.

Then I started thinking about famed Cleveland Cavalier forward LeBron James.

Will winning a championship really change anything? Sure, it will make us feel better and reverse the emotional narrative highlighted by the excellent ESPN documentary Believeland.

But what really needs to happen is for the city to rise to the level of LeBron. The city needs to really try as hard as The King to be great. I understand it takes time, just like The King said when talking about winning a title after he returned from Miami.

The city fathers and mothers need to write a letter like that about the city itself.

I know there will be some who heap scorn for criticizing the city I left. But I love Cleveland. My family is still there and so is my heart. I am a fan in the truest sense.

I am also proud of some of the things I saw. Downtown is gleaming. University Circle, the cultural and medical center of the city, is thriving. And notably, the west side, which has been historically white, is impressive.

But the east side, mostly black, is just devastated.

There is no question that a championship by the Cavaliers would exorcise a lot of demons from the crushing losses endured since the Cleveland Browns last won a crown in 1964.

But the day after, many neighborhoods would still be like a Dresden.

I don’t want to put any more pressure on LeBron. And it really is unreasonable to expect him to hold a news conference on East 124th Street and Superior Avenue to demand reclamation.

That is not his job.

The city needs LeBrons coming out of City Hall, the mayor’s office and corporate boardrooms trying to win championships for the neighborhoods. It is not enough to be satisfied with making downtown look good with shining sports venues or a new hotel.

These other LeBrons need to dunk for development in the ‘hood. They need to score layups for improved roads and make some assists in creating businesses in those communities.

With all of the preening and positive spin on tap for the upcoming Republican National Convention, I hope the networks will have the courage to tell a more complete story of Cleveland. Would they dare turn their cameras on the inner neighborhoods and ask hard questions about urban America?

Even though I was distraught during my visit, my daughters beamed with pride seeing where I came from. Heck, I am proud of what I learned surviving those mean streets. That will never change.

But I had a sense of helplessness when I visited a friend whose home was still well-kept on a street where virtually every other house was abandoned or decrepit.

She shrugged when I asked her why she stayed. It’s home and she owns that piece of ground. It is worth fighting for. I agree. We need a championship mentality not just in the Q but outside of it. Cleveland is rebounding in certain respects, but its leaders — political, corporate and civic — need to rain down some serious 3-pointers on the rest of the community.

We need a new narrative that says The King came home and we rebuilt a city in his wake. Let’s make “All In” mean all parts of the city being raised up. Not just a banner.

Go Cavs. Go Cleveland.

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