LeBron James has given a lot to his home town, not least an NBA title in 2016, but his latest gift might be the greatest.
The NBA superstar has returned to his home town of Akron, Ohio to open the I Promise School, the latest and most impressive initiative of the LeBron James Family Foundation.
On Monday, 240 at-risk students in grades three and four began classes at the state-of-the-art facilities, marking a major milestone in a project that will not reach a conclusion until the school is expanded to include eight grades by 2022.
James, arguably the greatest basketballer of all time and someone who has achieved everything there is to achieve in the game, has called the opening of this school “one of the greatest moments, if not the greatest, of my life”.
And he has plenty of reason to be proud. More than just a token gesture, the I Promise School features plenty of innovative ideas – accelerated classes to help kids catch up on what they have been forced to miss, food banks and job placement assistance for parents and even a bicycle for every student.
Support does not end on graduation day either, with James offering up free tuition at the University of Akron for every student who completes the program.
It’s a significant investment of both time and money for James, who remains determined to leave a legacy both on and off the court, and is driven by the memory of his own difficult upbringing in Akron where, like many others, he feared becoming “a statistic”.
Freaking amazing! 👏🏽👏🏽 https://t.co/s82hufUHZA
— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) July 30, 2018
“Growing up in the inner-city, the numbers are always stacked against you. So you didn’t really know what was possible,” James told SportsCentre.
“I think what happened for me is I got some mentors and little league coaches and teachers that I started to believe in, and they started to make me feel like my dreams could actually become a reality.
“We’re starting with 240 kids – 120 in third grade and 120 in fourth grade – and I believe that is where it all started. In the fourth grade I missed 80 days of school.
I feel like this is the point where we can really get into the minds of the kids, and let them know that we are here for them.
“I think that’s what kids ultimately want, they just want to feel like someone cares about them.”
At the heart of it all is the promise itself, a mantra for every child that is printed on the walls and lockers and will be repeated regularly.
“I promise to go to school. To do all of my homework. To listen to my teachers because they will help me learn. To ask questions and find answers. To never give up, no matter what. To always try my best. To be helpful and respectful to others. To live a healthy life by eating right and being active. To make good choices for myself. To have fun. And above all else – to finish school.”
From the other side of the country, new Los Angeles Laker James will now hope to watch his project grow safe in the knowledge the “skinny kid from Akron” has left a lasting legacy for his home.
“I want people to know that these kids should still have the same opportunity as everybody else. That’s what’s most important,” he told a crowd at the grand opening.
“Us as adults, we have a responsibility to not let these kids down, to continue to be the teachers, the mentors, the parents, the coachers, the life skills, the inspiration, the superheroes. That’s our responsibility.
“These kids are our future and they have dreams and aspirations bigger than the city of Akron, than the state of Ohio, than the United States of America.”