Illustration by Jay Wallace
*Donte Whitner remembers days as a 13-year-old when he would scrape together coins to hitch a ride on the trolley to walk around Tower City in downtown Cleveland. He knew he wasn't going to buy much at the mall but he was still mesmerized by the smells and sights of his city. *
*After spending the first eight seasons of his career in Buffalo and San Francisco, Whitner got a phone call right as free agency started from Browns general manager Ray Farmer. He asked Whitner how would you like to come home and push this team into the playoffs? Whitner accepted the challenge and is helping change not only the face of the Browns, but the perception of Cleveland as a destination city. *
Kevin Jones: If you have a friend come visit you from out of town, where do you take them around Cleveland?
Donte Whitner: For dinner, definitely "Red" the steakhouse. For the night life, probably Town Hall. Maybe we go to FWD nowadays in the Flats. Man, a couple places down in the Flats are exploding. But, yeah, I would show them a good time.
KJ: How much has downtown changed in the last 10 years?
DW: The change has been tremendous. Especially with me leaving and going to San Francisco and coming back. There's been so many condominiums, restaurants, a lot of lounges, a lot of places to just hang out. I have a place at The 9. I can't wait to see where it's at 10 years from now.
KJ: How many Cavs games did you go to last year?
DW: I had season tickets, so probably 20 of the home games. The energy is unbelievable. Whenever you win, that's where the energy comes from.
KJ: When you played with other teams in the league, did you still rep Cleveland this hard?
DW: Of course. I always tell people Cleveland is not as small as people think it is. There's some bad parts, but there's more good parts than bad. I still followed Cleveland.com on my phone, still read the Akron Beacon Journal.
KJ: Do you follow the Indians at all?
DW: More than a little bit. But back in the day, I was the biggest Tribe fan you could meet. I didn't even play baseball but I loved Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel at shortstop, both of them were flying around, making plays. I went to a few Browns games as a kid too, but just a few. We didn't really have too much money. But the ones I did go to, I remember it being shivering cold out there.
KJ: If we're riding around with you in your car, do you have local radio on or Spotify?
DW: : I actually love the radio in this town. I listen to 92.3 The Fan, 93.1 WZAK for R&B, 107.9 for hip-hop, 107.3 has some jazz. A nice mix of everything.
KJ: Where is this city going? People talk about Cleveland being an up-and-coming place for all types of people, kind of like the Brooklyn neighborhood in New York.
DW: This city, man, we're trying to transform it into a big city. It's an ambitious goal. You look at places like Ohio City, Tremont – they keep building and people keep coming. Right now, we have good sports teams, so that also helps. It's fairly cheap to live here. You don't have to break the bank to buy a house. Cleveland might not get there, but the people that live here are passionate about the city. You don't get this type of pride and in some other cities.