Before anyone ever cared what I wrote or took pictures of, I was a child from Lebanon. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart.
People here have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Lebanon is bigger than journalism and coaching. I realized that five years ago, and I still do now.
Does this sound familiar? If you are an avid watcher of ESPN or NBA basketball, then it should. These words should haunt Miami Heat fans and serenade Cleveland Cavalier fans. They are the words (aside from my personal alterations) of LeBron James, submitted to SI.com, announcing his decision to leave Miami and return to his home state and play for his former team, the Cavaliers.
LeBron’s words stunned me, initially. I couldn’t understand how a guy could leave the beautiful, sandy, southern Hollywood city of Miami for the cold, economic-struggling city of Cleveland. Then I read his letter. His letter epitomized the classic cliché, “home is where the heart is.” Home is not the place you won your first NBA championship, or the place that put you in a great position to return to the NBA Finals for your fifth straight season. Home is deeper than that. Home can’t be won.
Lebanon is my home. I understood his reasoning and feelings for his home. LeBron and I have been unusually blessed in our respective cities, although my accomplishments can’t compare to gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated at 17 years old. I won all-district and all-region basketball awards, was voted most popular of my senior class and won homecoming king. Even before high school, I won the school-wide multiplication bee in fourth grade and was recognized by the Duke University Talent Identification Program. I’ve always received awards and been blessed in that regard. But sometimes you have to leave home in order to come back a better person than you would have been by staying.
Three days after LeBron announced his decision, The Lebanon Democrat offered me a staff writer position. Words can’t express the feelings I had at the moment. Four years in Miami for LeBron was like college for me. The two years in Cookeville attending Tennessee Tech and three years in Murfreesboro attending Middle Tennessee State University seemed effortlessly worth it.
LeBron said he knows his return won’t be easy. His patience will get tested. But his calling goes beyond basketball. My calling goes beyond journalism. “I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously,” he said. So do I, LeBron.
In Lebanon, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.
I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.
Xavier Smith is a staff writer for The Democrat. Email him at email@example.com.