When LeBron James was growing up in Akron, Ohio, the ability to play for the Los Angeles Lakers probably seemed so far away as to not even be possible. As has been documented in plenty of books on his early life and elsewhere, even with his prodigious basketball skills, James had far more pressing concerns than dreaming about the future, like getting to school safely, or getting to school at all.
With that context, it’s easy to see why even on the eve of his I Promise School opening up in his hometown, James is still trying to process how momentous it is that he now has the resources to give back to his community in such an impactful way.
“It’s kind of crazy right now because I’ve been sitting and thinking over the past few weeks, past couple months on what it means to open up a school, and how excited I am for this possibility,” James said in a video on his “Uninterrupted” media platform. “To be able to be in my hometown and be able to open up a school and to know who’s going to benefit from it.”
And this isn’t some charter school for the highest performers in the district. The I Promise School won’t be serving the best-performing kids in their class, it will be trying to save the lowest performing ones, a group James himself was a member of when he missed 83 days of school in fourth grade.
The I Promise School will be taking children in the bottom 25th percentile of their school district academically and attempting to “grow students an equivalent of two academic years in just one” using “several of education’s best practices,” according to a comprehensive report on the school from Theresa Cottom of Ohio.com.
But while that’s a noble goal that will surely draw James plenty of glowing coverage, make no mistake: This school isn’t something James is opening for positive PR. Watching James carefully pick every single word he wanted to say about the opportunity he has to create more opportunities for the kids his school will serve — kids that remind him of himself — made it clear that this school is so much more than just a chance for feel-good headlines.
“I know these kids basically more than they know themselves. I’ve walked the same streets, I’ve rode the same bikes on the streets that they ride on. I went through the same emotions, the good, the bad, the adversity,” James said.
“Everything that these kids are going through, the drugs, the violence, the guns, everything that they’ve gone through as kids, I know.”
Because of that experience and empathy, James not only knows how he can give back, but also doesn’t see how he couldn’t.
”For me to be in a position where I have the resources, I have the finance, I have the people, I have the structure and I have the city around me, why not? Why not continue to do great things where you can help the youth?” James asked.
“You can help the next Barack Obama or Michelle Obama. You can help the next Sean Diddy Combs or Jay Z. You can help the next LeBron James. You can help the next Serena Williams,” James continued. “It’s an endless opportunity.”
It’s also an opportunity James wishes he could be around more, something he likely won’t be able to do on a consistent basis until his career comes to a close now that he’s heading out to Los Angeles to join the Lakers.
“It’s kind of bittersweet timing,” James said. “Because on this hand I have a brand new school that’s opening and I want to be there on a day-to-day basis, ten toes down for these kids, and then, on the other hand, I’m moving. I’m moving to Los Angeles.”
Still, even though he won’t be around on a day-to-day basis, James knows just how big of a difference he’s already made just by opening the I Promise School.
“This is kind of like dream come true for me,” James said.
All quotes transcribed via “Uninterrupted.” You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.