Jerome Baker and LeBron James already belong to several of the same elite clubs.
LeBron was Ohio's top-rated basketball player 11 years ago (beating out Andrew Lavender and Ivan Harris at home and every other basketball player abroad) while Baker is currently Ohio's top-rated high school football player.
They're both native Ohioans, which is a blessing neither chose. Both are/were spectacular prep stars. Both are/were sought after by schools far and wide. That's rarified shared air right there.
You can choose to believe LeBron's I-would-have-gone-to-Ohio-State story if you'd like (I do) but he had no intentions of ever going to college or staying in Ohio: He even tried to declare for the NBA draft as a high school junior. Only through the serendipity of the NBA draft lottery did he end up finding a job so close to home for seven years following his commencement.
Last Friday Baker announced his intentions to play college football at the University of Florida. A linebacker that good, from Cleveland, growing up and walking away from an Ohio State scholarship offer with Urban Meyer running the Buckeyes in favor of a program that's, eh, not doing so well: Had LeBron not trampled that decision with his Decision, we might be making this into a louder recruiting panic.
But sometimes it's not about depth charts, academics, stadiums, conferences or climate. Sometimes it's just about being somewhere else.
Baker's explanation for choosing Florida was vague enough to be Tresselian. He declined to take questions following his press conference, so it seems he said everything he wanted to and wasn't all that interested in potentially revealing what he didn't. That's his right. Perhaps his decision was in conflict with other Jerome Baker stakeholders.
The people at home generally want you to stay there. At least that's the case with recruits, and it's definitely how it goes with world-class NBA free agents.
When you arrived on earth, you didn't get to pick your parents and you weren't allowed to choose where you were from. Everything else you could at least try to influence. My parents were great. By the grace of our divine creator I get to hail from the Buckeye State for the rest of my life. I graduated from high school in Columbus.
Then I left Ohio. That was first big decision I ever made for myself. Just needed to be somewhere else; wasn't even sure where.
Sure, there were plenty of visits - I even attended Ohio State during summers to steal some relatively cheap credits toward my undergraduate degree. But I was gone, baby. Those great parents of mine were snatched away from Ohio a few years later and suddenly I didn't even have a home to go back to.
It took a few more football seasons of visiting - and shacking up with whichever friends would have me - to come to the realization I had grown to love Ohio more after leaving than I probably would have had I never left.
I was reminded of my own realization while reading LeBron's explanation for why he was returning to Cleveland. Explicitly, it was the rationale for his return, but tucked into his essay was the subtext for his departure, ironically, four years ago:
Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids.
Bron had never left home. Sometimes you just need to be somewhere else, and it doesn't hurt if two other top-five draft picks happen to already be where you're going.
He had to leave Ohio to love it more. He admitted it when announcing his return. It's not homesickness, and it isn't that grass-is-greener stuff either, but it happens with a lot of Ohioans who wander off to somewhere, anywhere else.
That's why it's not uncommon to see conspicuous, vocal and obnoxiously beautiful Ohio pride in any corner of the world. We leave Ohio, realize we unknowingly took a big chunk of it with us - and then that chunk flares up inside of us. Even if there is medicine available for this condition nobody seems to be taking it.
LeBron has already gotten to see the world outside of Akron and Cleveland - you could do worse than a bronze medal tinged with shame from the Olympics in Greece; he probably can't. Other places aren't necessarily always better, but they're definitely different - and sometimes different is what you need.
It's not uncommon to see conspicuous, vocal and obnoxiously beautiful Ohio pride in ANY corner of the WORLD.
Baker has seen Gainesville exactly once, which is one more time than Kenny Guiton saw Columbus prior to him making his college decision. Gainesville isn't Cleveland and Houston isn't Columbus. They're all quite different - and sometimes that's all it takes.
Granted, Urban probably isn't conceding Baker to Florida yet, but maybe this one isn't about the depth charts or the programs. If it were, Baker might have said more with all of those microphones in his face - microphones he invited to his voluntary, public announcement.
If he sticks with Florida, Jerome might find that his visits home to Cleveland will be accompanied with some extra feelings he wasn't anticipating. Hopefully he will also find an enormous amount of value in having lived somewhere else, because no matter what he does with his college years and all of the years that follow, he cannot change where he is from. People sometimes try to do this. It's impossible.
LeBron is, in essence, choosing to return home after college. I left Columbus 23 years ago, have since lived in some lousy and great places - but the one thing that doesn't change is the warm, euphoric feeling when returning to what will always be home - even if home for that weekend is a hotel room or someone's couch.
Because home is like nowhere else. Especially after you find yourself somewhere else.