He’s the ‘Chosen One’ and 'the King’ to basketball fans worldwide. But in Cleveland -- 40 miles from his hometown Akron -- NBA star forward of the Cavaliers LeBron James means even more.
Considering the gossipy hype that already has him packing for all the lights of Broadway (and a New York Knicks uniform), I though I'd call a grab-bag of proud Clevelanders to see whether Cleveland might be better than New York.
That might be a stretch, but they were at least unified in a breathless love of LeBron, their 'real home-grown hero,' who makes up 'our town's psyche' -- and a 'down-to-earth guy' who makes sports fans out of non-believers. Like Lori Wald Compton, the president of a literary group, who wrote recently that she goes 'mushy' watching him 'goofing around on the bench.'
And he's leaving this?
Even though the Cavs were a bust in the playoffs, he should stay. And here are nine great reasons why.
Nearly every Clevelander agrees that what makes Cleveland 'Cleveland' is this fantastic public space, one of the nation’s mother farmer markets: a real bevy of flowers, produce, meats – and fudge! – that shows off the diversity of the city. Set in Ohio City, its signature clock tower stands 137 feet over the arched NeoClassical/Byzantine building that turns a perky 98 this year. (Open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.)
2. ITS ONGOING REVIVAL
New York works off a slash-and-burn model; if it's not looking forward, way forward, time for something new. Places like Cleveland better keep a sense of the past -- sure, its economic woes help, but never mind -- and despite this hilarious 'hastily made Cleveland tourism video' and the city's 'mistake by the lake' rep, the new Cleveland is ever-transforming. You see in in the eat/shop/booze districts of Tremont, Ohio City, Shoreway and the Flats.
No one who's seen A Christmas Story doesn't want to get that leg lamp, you can at the house the 1983 film was shot at. It's really for fanatics only, but it's set up just like the '50s-era of the film. (And, no, you cannot get that lamp in New York.)
By the way, some of the CVB offices are in the former site of the closed Higbee's Department Store (closed in 2002) where Ralphie gets kicked in the face by Santa.
One of only a few Frank Lloyd Wright sites you can sleep in, the Louis Penfield House -- built in 1955 -- offers overnight visits of one of Wright's last homes -- and one often compared to Fallingwater. At $275 per night, it's set amidst a 30-acre plot of woods 12 miles east of Cleveland in Willoughby. Donna Penfield of the non-profit site told me, 'I like it best in winter, when it's snowy outside; just build a fire and bring out the wine.'
She noted that LeBron hasn't been yet, and asked 'Do you think he's interested in Frank Lloyd Wright?' I hope so.
5. THE CUYAHOGA IS NOT ON FIRE
Somewhere it's written that no article (or R.E.M. song) about Cleveland can overlook the fact that its river caught fire the same year of Woodstock (like this one, this one, this one -- and yes, this one). But 41 years later, it's an embraced, unburning part of city life. For nearly 15 years, it's home to the Cleveland Regatta; Flats and Ohio City bars nestle up to riverfront spots (the naughtiest is Shooters; Major Hooples is more low key); and dining boat trips take in Cleveland's downtown from the river.
6. NOT THE ROCK'N'ROLL HALL OF FAME (YET)
Sure it's Cleveland's greatest attraction, its new library section opens later this year, and a visit is great fun (and it should be at $22 a pop) -- but the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame and me aren't on speaking terms UNTIL it decides it has a place -- somewhere between Bob Seger and the Hollies!?! -- for the enduring and endearing Canadian prog trio Rush, one of the biggest grossing rock bands of all time. (Seriously, if the hottest people in the world in Rio can love three aged dorks playing stop/start, nearly unrhythmic music, then why shouldn't rock'n'roll's HQ?)
Nevermind that until 2009, all induction ceremonies were, uh, in New York (LeBron, look away!). Now only one in three years does Cleveland host it. What's that about?
OK, back to the point...
6. LEBRON ALREADY FAILED IN NEW YORK
Sure, LeBron whomps the Knicks in Madison Square Garden (who doesn't as of late?), but let's not forget how badly he choked on 'Saturday Night Live' in New York (particularly bad compared with NFL star Peyton Manning's clutch appearance). Maybe showing up to rehearsals would've helped?
7. LOVE OF POETS
Mac's Backs is a classic, three-story, new/used bookstore that's hosted poetry events for 26 years. Not your average Midwestern town has much space for couplets, stanzas and rhyming verse. Suzanne DeGaetano of the shop says 'Cleveland has a huge tradition of poetry,' considering it was home to Langston Hughes (for a bit) and D.A. Levy. 'A lot of places here support poetry.'
8. BETTER ROLLER COASTERS
A guy actually died on Coney Island's Cyclone roller coaster recently, but the amazing Cedar Point amusement park -- west of Cleveland -- has 17 classics to choose from. Seventeen.
9. SERIOUSLY GOOD FOOD
Cleveland is a growing gourmet destination. Michael Symon, of the 'Iron Chef' Food Network series, has four restaurants here -- including the B-Spot in the Cavs' court. It's not just locals going. Annalise Mobasseri from Symon's Lolita told me, 'It's great working here. You meet people from all over the world -- and they're always so surprised to see how much life and love we have all over the place.'
A rising local star is Jonathon Sawyer -- who just got picked in the Food & Wine class of 2010 for best new chefs for his focus on local, slow-food, organic meals at his downtown restaurant Greenhouse Tavern.
--> Though Cleveland could finally use a champion -- particularly from a home-grown hero -- but if LeBron does relocate, it won't set back Cleveland for long. As Mobasseri told me, 'When we love Cleveland, we LOVE Cleveland... Seriously, I could talk for hours...' I'm a believer.