LeBron James is the best basketball player on the planet.
He is a 3-time NBA champion, a 4-time league MVP, and he’s now been to 8 straight Finals. That means that for nearly a decade, the road to an NBA championship has gone through LeBron.
He literally does everything. LeBron scores at will, like a lion on a court of antelopes. He is an athletic cyborg. I’m convinced that you could put LeBron on a local church rec team and he would still carry them to the playoffs.
To watch LeBron James play the game of basketball is to watch poetry in motion.
Adding to the beauty of LeBron James’ historic career is the driving force that got him there in the first place. LeBron came from nothing.
He admitted it himself in his Finals MVP speech back in 2013. “I’m LeBron James. From Akron, Ohio. From the inner city. I am not even supposed to be here.” And yet, here he is, a future Hall of Famer and one of the greatest to ever play the game.
LeBron grew up in inner city poverty. He never got to meet his dad. He was born to a 16-year-old mother, Gloria James, and by the time LeBron was 5 years old, the city had condemned the house they were living in.
When LeBron was in 4th grade, he missed nearly 100 days of school. He didn’t have a way to get there.
Realizing the challenges of raising a son in poverty, his mother Gloria sent him to live with his basketball coach when he was 9 years old. It was there where he had his first taste of stability, and where he recognized that basketball could be his saving grace, his path to a better life.
And it was.
LeBron James became an NBA superstar, whom many even believe to be the greatest to ever play the game. He earns roughly $2 million a week, and has donated millions of his fortune to charity. He’s been loyal to the same woman, now his wife, throughout his rise to stardom — no affairs, no allegations. He’s drug-free and scandal-free, and his reputation is as solid as they come among his NBA peers. He became an incredible man and father without ever having one in his life.
But for me, LeBron’s greatest achievement is the work he’s doing for local students.
The first part of this legacy began back in 2015 when ESPN announced that LeBron would donate $41 million in partnership with the University of Akron to send 1,100 local students to college.
Many of these students are inner city kids with backgrounds similar to LeBron’s, but without prospects of NBA stardom. Thanks to the LeBron James Family Foundation, these kids now have guaranteed 4-year, full-tuition scholarships.
1,100 students whose futures once seemed bleak have now had their lives changed forever for the better. A community shackled by poverty now stands on the precipice of hope. For an excellent passer like LeBron, this may be his biggest assist yet.
But that’s not all. Last year, the Akron School Board made headlines when they announced that they had approved a plan for a public school to be built with the help of LeBron’s foundation. Called the “I Promise” School, LeBron’s latest project would focus specifically on students at-risk of falling behind — students like LeBron used to be.
He calls it his most important professional accomplishment.
“I walked those streets, and it was just like there’s no way I’m going to be able to get out of this situation. I just thought about that every day. I had dreams and I had mentors, and they allowed my dreams to become who I am today. People can talk about everything else besides that, but they can never take away what I’m able to do for my hometown and people all around the world. That’s what means to me more than anything. The basketball thing, I love it and I enjoy it, but to give back and open up a school, that’s something that will last way beyond my years.”
LeBron, now 33 years old, will only have a few years left as a professional basketball player. The achievements will continue, but as LeBron’s time in the league dwindles, we’ll see a new side of the man who may then claim the title of Greatest of All Time. We’ll see a generational legend, in the twilight of stardom, reckoning with his legacy.
And for thousands of inner city kids, LeBron’s greatest legacy is as simple and as profound as this: he made a difference.