LeBron’s off-court legacy complements his basketball success
Mya Smiley is a student at the University of Akron thanks to the help of LeBron James, and she is determined after graduation to become a social worker who helps foster children.
Her education and career path would not have been possible, the sophomore says, without a scholarship and guidance she received from the LeBron James Family Foundation. “He’s life-changing,” Smiley said.
For all his accomplishments on the basketball court — four championships, 19 All-Star Game nominations and a looming coronation as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer — it’s James’ ambitious ambitions off the court that could ultimately distinguish his legacy from other superstar athletes”.
James co-founded a successful media and entertainment company, bought stakes in professional baseball and football franchises, and with great help from product endorsements, his net worth is estimated at over $1 billion. The off-court achievement James is most proud of, he says, is working to improve the lives of people like Smiley in his hometown of Akron.
Many athletes have excelled in one or more of these areas. But few have nailed them all as well as James, who is closing in on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s career goalscoring record.
“His goal, I believe, is to have 10% of his wealth go to causes and support communities, which is an incredible goal,” said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, professor of sports management at George Washington University. “I would say he is maybe above and beyond the others, just on that single aspiration.”
James is, by any measure, a resounding success. And he makes Smiley, one of the many people in Akron who has received financial support from his foundation, believe that she too can be successful.
“If I hadn’t gone through the LeBron program, I probably never would have gone to college. I would be living in a not-so-positive environment,” the 19-year-old Smiley said.
“His ability to help people’s future,” she added, “is what makes LeBron a great person.”
James, who entered the NBA right out of high school in 2003, planned early on to use his talents, his fame — and, yes, his growing financial resources — to impact the world beyond basketball- ball.
“Before I even entered the NBA, I knew I wanted to find a way to give back to my community,” James said. Although James bounced from house to house during his childhood and experienced financial insecurity for many of those years, he also received tremendous support from friends, neighbors and educators.
The LeBron James Family Foundation, founded in 2004, first gained local attention by donating bikes and backpacks. Then he began looking at after-school programs, with students scattered across several dozen schools, and eventually established a public school currently serving about 575 students in grades three through eight. Today, the school includes a family resource center that offers a wide range of services for parents, including mental health classes, financial literacy, legal aid and general education.
Just down the street from the school, the foundation provides rent-free housing to no less than 16 different families – in times of need – and it intends to build 50 affordable homes.
“I couldn’t have guessed how much it would increase,” James said in late January. “But we got here by listening and responding to our community and what it needs.”
James earned over $400 million in NBA salary during his time with Cleveland, Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers. Another $100 million is on the way in the next 2-1/2 years or so.
James is a pitchman for Nike, GMC, AT&T and many other multinationals. He owns part of the Boston Red Sox and the British football club Liverpool. His entertainment company, SpringHill – named after the modest apartment complex he grew up in – is valued at $725 million and has produced films for HBO and Netflix.
“He was a shining example for millions of kids, especially kids who have fewer opportunities and haven’t had the same advantages as others,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said in a statement. 2018, a sentiment he has repeated many times since. “They see this guy as someone who has consistently demonstrated excellence in the workplace and gives them a voice and lets them know you can talk about anything.”
James puts so much emphasis on giving back to Akron because of the help the people there have given him and his family. “He never lost sight of that,” said Michele Campbell, executive director of the James Foundation. “I think that keeps him grounded.”
In 2010, the question of how down-to-earth “King James” really was was called into question. That’s when he went on television to announce he was leaving Cleveland to play in Miami. Billed as “The Decision” – and shown on ESPN – the live event was widely called self-serving. But from James’ perspective, the show raised around $4 million for charity, a fact largely ignored.
Years later, James would use his star power to help bring attention to a cause bigger than himself.
Following the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin – a black teenager from Florida who was wearing a hoodie when he was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer – James tweeted a photo of Heat players wearing hoodies hoodie and bows that included the hashtag “WeWantJustice.”
In 2020, James helped lead the More Than a Vote movement, which included registration and early voting campaigns and highlighted the need for people – especially black voters – to go to the polls to fight against disenfranchisement.
Also in 2020, following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, James was one of the cast calling for an end to racial inequality and police brutality.
“Everything I do,” James said late last year, “has got to have a purpose.”
James has all the money and all the fame he ever wanted or needed. His NBA records, including the scoring title, will last a very long time.
Just like his efforts off the field.
“His ability to help others and put others first is what makes him a great person,” Smiley said. “Not the baskets he shot.”
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