Having grown up in Cleveland, and lived in Akron, LeBron's comments were not surprising to me.
I've talked often about the differences between Cleveland and Akron. I've lived in both cities, and I got it. Akron natives didn't like that national perception that the two cities were essentially one. A similar aura exists with Akron and Canton. Canton can claim the Pro Football Hall of Fame, of course, so at their will they can separate from Akron - which they do during the first week of August every year for the Hall of Fame Induction.
LeBron's comments in an interview in GQ Magazine neither surprised or shocked me. Especially the ones concerning Cleveland:
It's not far, but it is far. And Clevelanders, because they were the bigger-city kids when we were growing up, looked down on us.... So we didn't actually like Cleveland. We hated Cleveland growing up. There's a lot of people in Cleveland we still hate to this day.
In that sense, James said it perfectly. It's not that those in Akron hated Clevelanders. It was the perception they hated. They hated the national feeling that LeBron James, who grew up in the streets of Akron, was a Clevelander. That playing for the Cavaliers was the same as playing "at home." That was serious business, at least with those from Akron I had met, and for seven years that festered.
In reality, it started long before LeBron became a Cavalier. Even during high school, the feeling was LeBron was trying to be tied to Cleveland. High school games moved from his home gym at Akron SVSM, to Rhodes Arena on the campus of the University of Akron. In the end, the games were moved to then-Gund Arena. LeBron, too bing for Akron, needed to be moved to the "big city," to Cleveland.
This is more about national media than local. I have never felt that Cleveland looks down on Akron, or that Akron hates Cleveland. The national media - in an effort to promote James - made the connection and ran with it. It helped foster a feeling LeBron had about Cleveland as a kid growing up. It helped LeBron make the decision to leave.
To their credit, the Cavaliers tried to make Akron a part of their "Home" campaign to keep LeBron in Cleveland. To LeBron, however, Cleveland was never part of "Home," and taking his talents to South Beach has little to do with the City of Akron. Akron is home, not Cleveland, so leaving the Cavaliers has nothing to do with leaving home.
We can agree, or disagree. The fact is, I know exactly what LeBron is saying, because I talked to people from Akron 15 years ago that felt the same way James does today.
That said, it doesn't make "The Decision" any better, or the characature that LeBron has become any less.
Some more quotes from LeBron's GQ article:
LeBron James on how those close to him view his decision: "They're happy to see me happy. That's what they can see in my face. They say: ‘It's been a while since we've seen you look like that.' "
...on Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert: "I don't think he ever cared about LeBron. My mother always told me: ‘You will see the light of people when they hit adversity. You'll get a good sense of their character.' Me and my family have seen the character of that man."
...on imagining himself playing for the Cavaliers again one day: "If there was an opportunity for me to return and those fans welcome me back, that'd be a great story.... Maybe the ones burning my jersey were never LeBron fans anyway."
...on how growing up helped him learn about facing adversity and staying humble: "That's what keeps me humble, because I know my background, know what my mother went through. I never get too high on my stardom or what I can do. My mom always says, and my friends say, ‘You're just a very low-maintenance guy.' "