Why LeBron James Really Returned to Ohio
Maybe because Ohio is kind of an awesome place.
I read LeBron James’ letter in Sports Illustrated the day it dropped. I found it interesting that LeBron James kept using the prefix “Northeast,” as in, “I was a kid from Northeast Ohio” or “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball” or “What’s important to me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”
And then I realized that I think of Ohio not parceled into four quadrants but rather as one entity — precisely because I live so far away from it. Like LeBron, I myself left the state to further my own career, relocating to California in 2006, though he’s met with slightly more success so far.
Ever since my move, my standup comedy bio has claimed Ohio, not Cincinnati. That’s a deliberate branding play — “an Indian comedian from Ohio” contains a larger element of surprise than “an Indian comedian from Cincinnati.” Both of my brothers work in marketing in New York City, one of whom is employed at a naming company. Yes, there are companies whose sole job it is to name brands like Swiffer, Febreze, Lexus… well, any brand with a name (meaning all brands).
“Cincinnati,” as a word, almost sounds exotic; mundane “Ohio” serves as a better punchline. Indeed, the opening sentence in my act these days is, “As you probably guessed, I’m from Ohio.”
I’ve always had hometown pride: I loudly and proudly root for the Cincinnati Reds and Bengals. Heck, I long claimed that Oscar Robertson was the second best basketball player ever — and the NBA’s Cincinnati Royals went out of existence four years before I was born. So, don’t ever think I don’t love Cincinnati.
But my state pride is relatively new. Is Cincinnati different from the rest of Ohio? Kinda, yeah. My friend, Sara Bedinghaus, a city planner, has an explanation, great in its simplicity: Cincinnati has our own colleges. The rest of the state pulls for the Buckeyes. However, if you grew up anywhere else, you don’t have a major state school nearby other than The Ohio State University. In Cincinnati, we have the University of Cincinnati, Xavier University, and Miami University. That plus our professional sports teams (and our politics, which are far more conservative) keep us sort of metro-focused and not statewide-focused.
But this newfound pride is rooted in something personal for me because I’m actually connected to several parts of the state: I spent two years at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. I partied at Ohio State in Columbus and Ohio University in Athens. I played tennis tournaments in Chillicothe and worked at Wright Patt Air Force Base in Dayton. (And yes, I stayed true to the Bengals during the ’90s, when we were the worst sports franchise that decade, during my tenure in Northeast Ohio, surrounded by Browns and Steelers fans. So, I know true pain.)
I was never a Cleveland Cavaliers fan. I came of age in the 1990s, when you needed a reason not to be a Chicago Bulls fan. I fully admitted then and admit now that I was totally fair-weather — and it was a ton of fun pulling for Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player ever. However, since his second of three retirements, I basically stopped following the NBA. Sure, I’ve gone to a Lakers game and a couple of Clippers games. They’re fun and I pull for the home team. But, at least as of yet, I have no emotional connection to either one. As far as basketball, I’ve been a Man Without a Country this entire century.
I feel that I now have an NBA team. And if and when I meet LeBron, I’ll tell him that he should drop the “Northeast.” Hey, he did it once before. OH!
So, in the hopes of rallying some more state pride not just in Cincinnati but all over the world for the only state with a pennant for a flag, here’s a fun little take on our quirky little state.
1. We’re actually not that little.
There are only four states that contain at least three decent-sized cities. California has Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco. Florida has Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa, and Orlando. Texas has Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin. And Ohio has Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati. Ohio is also the 7th largest state by population — only California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, and Pennsylvania contain more people. This is why it seems that everybody you know has some connection to the Buckeye State. So, we’re big enough for LeBron’s massive 6’8″, 250-pound frame.
2. We’ve changed the world.
We’re the Birthplace of Aviation — the Wright Brothers are from Ohio. So’s Thomas Edison. Now, we can sit here all day and battle it out with North Carolina’s license plates and Nikola Tesla supporters, but we gave the world FLIGHT and the LIGHT BULB? Game-set-match.
Btw, the Cincinnati Reds were the first professional baseball team (not sure whom they played, though).
Procter & Gamble’s world headquarters are in Cincinnati. We invented Brand Management and the Soap Opera.
James Ritty invented the cash register in Dayton, Ohio.
Ohio also produced Roy J. Plunkett, who invented Teflon.
Harry Mosley Stevens created the first hot dog in Niles, Ohio.
So, with baseball and hot dogs, we’re half of what Americans claim as American. A good place for a McDonald’s All-American like LBJ.
3. We run this MF.
LBJ goes by King James, not President James, but there was an LBJ for President. Fitting, because when we’re not determining who the President is (Ohio having the longest current perfect streak of voting for the winner), we are the President. The most Hail to The Chief subjects hail from Ohio: William Henry Harrison, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William H. Taft, and Warren G. Harding.
OK, so now we can move on to the Famous People from Ohio lists. (Virginia, per that link above, also claims eight. It depends upon how you count. And so it is with my litanies below. I’m not gonna double-count peeps, though it’s tough to argue that Dave Chappelle isn’t both black and funny.)
4. We’re hilarious.
So, when The Roast of LeBron James inevitably happens, he’ll avoid being excoriated by some pretty funny comedians — the live ones, anyway.
5. We’re so Hollywood.
Our state has produced some heavyweights, beyond just the sporting stars of Jack Nicklaus (still widely regarded as the greatest golfer ever since Tiger turned out to be a different kind of swinger) and Ken Griffey, Jr.
Hold up a sec. Let’s highlight the top 7 of these:
- Doris Day: The top-ranked female box-office star of all time.
- Steven Spielberg: Three of his movies (Jaws, E.T. the Extraterrestrial, and Jurassic Park) became the highest-grossing films at the time of release.
- Dean Martin: “The King of Cool.”
- Clark Gable: “The King of Hollywood.”
- Paul Newman: Butch Cassidy.
- Lew Wasserman: “When Hollywood Had a King.”
- Jack Paar: Host of The Tonight Show.
6. We’re so hood.
Our black people are cooler than yours.
Just for the record (pun intended), the Isley Brothers are the only musical act in history to have a U.S. Billboard hit in six straight decades.
7. We rock.
We could potentially write some pretty cool tunes about James’ comeback.
8. We’re scary.
We could’ve just scared LeBron into coming back, given the whackos we’ve produced.
Hold up again. Let’s deep-dive on these:
- Charlie Manson: Essentially the face of evil.
- Jeffrey Dahmer: One of the most prolific serial killers in history, he split time (amongst other things) between Wisconsin and Ohio.
- Wes Craven: Created A Nightmare on Elm Street, one of the most frightening franchises in history. He also directed the entire Scream series, as well as The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on The Left, The Serpent and The Rainbow, and The People Under The Stairs.
- Marilyn Manson: He created the name out of Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Manson to approximate a beautiful murderer. It has a better ring than Charlie Monroe.
- Trent Reznor: Nine Inch Nails.
- Sam Sheppard: The Fugitive was based on this crazy story.
- Annie Oakley: Basically the best sharpshooter of all time, a featured act in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
Four pretty heavy movies took place in Ohio:
- A Nightmare on Elm Street is set in the fictional town of Springwood, Ohio.
- The house of Buffalo Bill (different guy (girl?)) in The Silence of The Lambs is in the fictional town of Belvedere, Ohio. Ted Levine, the actor who plays him, was born in Bellaire, Ohio.
- Though the film is set in Maine, the prison in The Shawshank Redemption is the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield. The oak tree near where Andy leaves his letter is in Malabar State Park in Lucas, Ohio.
- The cult classic, Heathers, is set at a fictional high school in Sherwood, Ohio.
If you prefer a different type of thrill, the amusement parks Cedar Point and Kings Island (former employer of Woody Harrelson and Carmen Electra (read on…)) consistently put Ohio in contention for best state in the union for roller coasters.
9. We’re hot.
And finally, I know LBJ is married but it’s not like our corn-fed ladies are ugly. Something must be in the water (and it is in Hamilton, Ohio, since it won Best Tap Water in The U.S. — and I’d like to tap some of this). I had to put this towards the bottom so you’d read this far… or at least scroll.
Some tidbits (I said “tid”) on those beauties:
- Halle Berry: I MEAN, C’MON — HALLE BERRY — was Miss Ohio USA 1986.
- Brooklyn Decker: Not from Brooklyn.
- Carmen Electra: Started career as a dancer at the amusement park Kings Island.
- Angie Everhart: Sports Illustrated and Playboy model.
- Katie Holmes: Mrs. Tom Cruise, FWIW.
- Beverly D’Angelo: OK, OK, don’t think of Entourage Beverly. Think of Vacation Beverly. Interestingly, her Grandpa designed the Horseshoe at Ohio State.
So, that’s it. To broaden Drew Carey’s claim… OHIO ROCKS!
Welcome back, LeBron.
- Rajiv Satyal (your new Southwest Ohio fan)
Rajiv Satyal is a proud California resident and a proud Ohio native. In case that wasn’t obvious.