An NBA title, an MVP award and an Olympic gold medal. You might say it has been a very good year for basketball superstar, LeBron James. In fact, the only other basketball player to rack up those kind of stats is the legendary, and those are some giant footsteps to follow. However, the 27 year old superstar is more than an athlete of Olympic proportions -- James is a hometown philanthropist and education advocate. Fresh off Team USA’s victory in London, LeBron was back on the streets of his hometown, connecting with old friends and checking in on a whole new generation.
Raised by a single mom in Akron, Ohio, James was well on his way to becoming a dropout well before he hit high school. However, thanks to the intervention of some powerful mentors, he became involved in athletics, cleaned up his act and stayed in school. Caring coaches and committed teachers worked to give little LeBron an all important leg-up, both in the classroom and on the basketball court --- and that is something this champion hasn’t forgot. Right after signing his first NBA contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he established the LeBron James Family Foundation, dedicated to bringing educational opportunity to Akron’s most at-risk children.
"I was one of these kids," James says. "It means everything to me to be able to give back. I have a passion for it. I love seeing kids smile, and for them to have someone who can lead them. For me to be in this position and being able to help and give back, means a lot."
As a first initiative, the Foundation launched a Bikeathon, giving needy youngsters in the Akron community new bicycles. But putting kids on wheels was one thing, what James really wanted to do was give them the motivation to thrive in school -- and in 2011 he started the Wheels for Education program.
“We still give kids bikes,” James says, “but we’re encouraging my Wheels for Education kids to go to school every day, learn from their teachers, and participate in the Akron After School program. I don’t want any of my kids to become a statistic and drop out of school. Each year we’re adding a new class of third graders and in the ten years before they graduate, we’ll be working with Akron Public Schools and Akron After School to get them college and career ready. I can’t wait for our first class of graduates: 2021 here we come!”
James is a hands-on leader, and his mother, fiancee and manager are all involved, helping to ensure the Foundation stays true to its mission. And while the Foundation gets a lot of support from the local Akron community, thanks to James’ celebrity, it also boasts a list of heavyweight sponsors like Coke, Nike and, of course, the Miami Heat.
In a few short weeks James will be heading back to training camp, and then take his place as one of the Heat’s starting forwards. Needless to say, he’s ready for another championship season, and he is already thinking about trying to add another Gold Medal to his collection at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. But no matter where he’s headed or what he decides to tackle next, the LeBron James Family Foundation and the kids of Akron will always be a top priority.
"I know this place," he says, "and it knows me...and that's all that matters."
Akron has a hometown boy to be very, very proud of.