An Open Letter to LeBron James

I live in a small city called Hamilton, Ohio.  I was born there, went to school there, started my own family there and still live there today.  It’s a historic city, aging not as gracefully as most would like.  It was a former fort long before the state of Ohio even existed.  Many of its citizens or their predecessors (mine included) migrated from Appalachia in the 1950’s and 60’s in search of employment in the area’s many factories.  Hamilton has been through booms and busts many times over, and survived every time to evolve into the next phase of its history.  It was and always will be a working class city and will never be confused with a trendy destination like South Beach or Mason.

There are no misguided aspirations for Hamilton to become something that it’s not.

Hamilton’s most recent glory days came to a close a couple of decades ago as most of the manufacturing companies that called Hamilton home departed for more profitable locations after the passage of corporate free agency (i.e., NAFTA).  Dollar signs and more attractive surroundings led them astray, and they took their talents to Mexico and Canada and later to China and India, always in search of more prosperity but seldom finding it.  They became nothing more than mercenaries.  None of them staged hour-long television specials to announce their Decisions.  Some of those companies still exist today, but most do not.  Making more profit and fame in a “hot” location worked for a while, but ultimately they either had what it took to succeed or they didn’t.  Most did not and are barely a faint memory today.  Short term grabs for glory made them forget who they were and where they came from.  Once they gambled away their legacies and pulled up their roots, most of these companies ended up losing their identities, their souls and then everything else.  They basically died from self-inflicted wounds with nobody to blame but themselves and their misguided advisors.

Next year, my son will graduate from the same high school that I did some twenty-six years earlier.  He played football for the team that I cheered for (OK, maybe not so much “cheered” as mocked) as a teenager.  He and I played some of our youth baseball in the same leagues and on the same fields decades apart.  Next summer, he will move away to college and who knows where life will take him after that.  If there is one lesson that I hope I’ve been able to pass on to him, it’s that he can never forget who he REALLY is, what he stands for and where he comes from.  Life may take him on a road far away, but he has to remember the people, places and experiences that made him who he is today.

If you forget who you are and where you are from, you end up belonging nowhere.

I know there is a basketball game tonight in Cleveland that a lot of people are talking about.  When I think of basketball, I usually think of the best player in basketball history, Michael Jordan.  Even though Jordan had his ups and downs, he managed to remember what it took to be successful and made that his primary focus.  Hard work, a commitment to teamwork, real values and a realistic sense of self will take you further than the runner-up trophy.

Michael has six rings.  He might let you see one, LeBron, just in case you are wondering what they look like.  If you asked him, he’d probably tell you what it takes to be successful, too.

Bryan Peters

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