Lebron James: Legend On and Off the Court
By Mia Hope and Michael Gehl
To be considered a great athlete in the NBA is one high form of praise and accomplishment. Yet, to be known and revered as a player who has excelled on and off the court for the duration of your career is another accolade to add to an impressive resume. Lebron James has brought hope to countless young kids who have gathered in front of a television to watch him play over the past two decades in the NBA.
Lebron has won championships, MVP trophies, and countless other awards in his 16-year NBA career. However, Lebron has decided that he wants to use his platform for more than just inspiring people with his play. He has decided to use his own personal money and time to fund projects that have helped so many. His cultural importance has grown beyond basketball. This can be seen especially in his educational and social justice work.
Lebron James is one of the few athletes who started being followed and praised by the national media while he was a teenager. It was not uncommon for 30,000 plus fans to come out for one of his highly toted high school games.
It would not be shocking if this type of fanfare would break a young man. Leading him to the ways of the world and failing to ever achieve true success at the professional level. However, Lebron James has been a model citizen and more. He has raised three great kids and been happily married to his high school sweetheart Savannah for almost eight years. It is obvious from this alone that Lebron is more than a great athlete. But, this is truly just a glimpse into what truly makes Lebron a legend.
One of Lebron’s biggest off the court passions is giving back to the community he grew up in back in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. Lebron was raised by a single mother and he knows first hand of the struggles for families and kids that call Akron home.
In order to help these students and families out, Lebron decided to start the “I Promise” school in Akron, Ohio. The focus of this school was to aid at-risk third and fourth graders in the Akron area. “I Promise” is a public school that is run by the Akron School District. The school is heavily funded by James and other philanthropists.
In a New York Times article about the school, it states “Its population is 60% black, 15% English-language learners and 29% special education students. Three-quarters of its families meet the low-income threshold to receive help from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. “Lebron James and his foundation have given around $600,000 to the school in the form of teaching assistants and after school funding for programs and tutors.
The attention is not just on the students but also on the parents. In that same article it notes, “Mr. James’s foundation covers the cost of all expenses in the school’s family resource center, which provides parents with GED preparation, work advice, health and legal services, and even a quarterly barbershop.” Lebron does not believe in helping only the student his goal is truly to help the entire family.
The students and parents are met with encouragement. This is intentional for they are intent on providing them with enough support. They want these students and parents to know that they are not alone and they have the ability to achieve greatness.
As cliche as it sounds. The school has produced such promising results. New York Times reports that “90% of I Promise students who met their goals exceeded the 70% of students districtwide. They also scored in the 99th growth percentile of the evaluation association’s school norms. Which the district said showed that students’ test scores increased at a higher rate than 99 out of 100 schools nationally. This is exciting to see. Yet, Lebron still notes that because the results are so promising he knows they can do even better.
This has led to him now creating a new addition to the Akron-based school– housing. He is adding this safe housing which he is funding for the students to have a secure and stable place to call home while they go to school. CNN reports that “a historic apartment building in Akron, Ohio, is being renovated and turned into transitional housing for families in need at his I Promise School.”
Lebron said in a statement in the same article that “Initially, our work was focused on helping these kids earn an education. But we’ve found that it is impossible to help them learn if they are struggling to survive — if they are hungry, if they have no heat in the freezing winter, if they live in fear for their safety,”
Lebron recognized that he wanted to cover all aspects. He listened and observed what the challenges were and decided to broaden his program to meet those needs. He has even promised free tuition to the students who graduate.
Another area in which he has excelled is his social justice work. In 2018, FOX TV’s Laura Ingraham told Lebron James to “Shut Up and Dribble” in response to him voicing his opinion on politics. She felt as though nobody should be subjected to listen to “someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball.”
She called his statement “barely intelligible” and “ungrammatical.” He turned that event into a moment stating “She helped me create more awareness.” He helped begin a group whose mission is to increase black voter turnout and fight against voter suppression called “More Than a Vote.” Lebron knows how it feels to be a black man in this delicate and hostile society. The place we are in as a nation does not reflect one of total peace and perfection, but one that is broken and needs correcting.
The lack of racial justice, heightened police shooting and brutality, racism and exploitation, and under appreciation of black bodies in sports. Lebron understands the position he has and the power his story tells in regards to his skin. From him wearing an “I Can’t breathe” T-Shirt in 2014 to encouraging players to voice their opinions and pains.
Lebron knows that this is bigger than him. Lebron states, “I do it because I’m passionate about it,” James said. “The hardest thing in the world for me personally is raising two African-American boys and an African-American daughter. Every project he has started has been used to start conversations and highlight messages around racial injustice, social justice, and politics.
Lebron is more than the sport he plays. He has shown high stats and precision on the court along with determination and leadership off of it. His contributions both to the NBA and the black community have not gone unnoticed.
He is a legend that continues to advocate for his community, his players and voices to be heard all around.