LeBron’s legacy is now in place

What will my legacy be?

What will I leave behind?

At some point in our lives, most of us will ask ourselves those questions because we all want to be remembered and hopefully, for something good.

NBA star LeBron James’ legacy is now secured as from now on — he won’t just be remembered for the heart he displayed on the basketball court — but the one he showed off it as well.

On Monday, LeBron officially opened his I Promise School for low income and at-risk students in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. Just one more good thing for him to give Ohioans after leaving the state to suit up for the Los Angeles Lakers this fall.

I Promise is truly remarkable as LeBron did everything he could to provide students, who were in the same position he was as a kid, a chance for a better life. In recent interviews, LeBron stated that school didn’t matter to him growing up and that it was too far for him to even go there as his single mother didn’t have a car. In fourth grade, he missed 83 days of school. Just think about that statistic for a second. It’s almost hard to believe.

Well, LeBron wants to make sure the poor kids of Akron do believe, not only in themselves, but also that people out there truly care about them. So, what does I Promise offer to its students? To start off, it’s a public school, not a private facility, so tuition is free. Breakfast, lunch and snacks are also free along with free uniforms and free transportation for kids living more than two miles of the school.

LeBron also wanted to emphasize the importance of emotional well-being, so the school offers support circles after lunch and tries to help develop healthy life habits.

I Promise doesn’t just look out for the kids though as the school tries to do everything it can to help families in need. The school has a food pantry, it gives parents access to a GED program if they haven’t graduated from high school and the school will even try to help them find jobs and suitable housing if needed. I Promise also wants to help out its teachers as much as possible so all of the school supplies, which a lot of times teachers have to pay for out of their own pockets, are free. The teachers also have free psychological services, career development training and even a personal trainer if they feel the need to get in shape.

At its core though, it’s all about the students and LeBron gives it his all to inspire them with messages and pledges on the walls and he lined some of the them with his game-worn basketball shoes. If that isn’t enough, every kid who graduates gets free tuition to the University of Akron (home of the Zips!).

What might be the best thing though is that each kid gets both a free bike and a helmet. Why? LeBron said he used his bike to escape some of the more dangerous parts of Akron. What a perfect gift for the kids.

And that’s what LeBron was when he started his basketball career. A kid. Unlike the rest of us, people were speculating about his legacy before he even voted in an election. LeBron was arguably the most hyped basketball player ever and possibly the most hyped athlete ever. He had already been anointed the title of the next Michael Jordan before he’d even graduated. His high school games were nationally televised and with that, an entire city’s fanbase came to the conclusion that he would be their savior.

That LeBron would be the one to end the heartache Clevelanders had suffered through and deliver that long-awaited championship to a city that hadn’t had one since 1964.

That’s an insane amount of pressure to put on an 18-year-old and a good number of us might’ve wilted under the weight of those expectations.

However, LeBron isn’t like most of us and he did the best he could to get a title with the Cavaliers. He got them to the NBA Finals once during his first stint with the Cavs, but he didn’t have much of a supporting cast and he was visibly frustrated on a regular basis in the postseason.

Then came The Decision, which people are still giving him guff over even though it happened eight years ago. LeBron appeared on national television and famously announced that he was “taking his talents to South Beach.” Clevelanders lost their minds, burned their jerseys emblazoned with his name and treated him like a traitor.

As I’ve said before, I wasn’t a fan of The Decision, which honestly was just as much ESPN’s fault as LeBron’s. However, I couldn’t fault him for leaving town to win a title in Miami. He sure wasn’t going to win one in Cleveland with the roster he was on and it gave him a chance to play with some friends. Yet for the next few years, he was hated. Not by everyone, but a very vocal number of sports fans, who would find delight whenever he failed.

After that first Decision, there was the second one and probably the one that will be remembered more in the long run. In 2014, after winning two titles in Miami, LeBron made the choice to come home to Ohio and rejoin the Cavaliers. He was welcomed back with open arms, like a prodigal son of sorts, and he rewarded them with a trip to the Finals in his first year back.

In his second year back in Cleveland, he helped engineer arguably the greatest comeback in Finals history as the Cavs overcame a 3-games-to-1 deficit and defeated a Golden State Warriors squad that had set a record for the most regular season wins in league history.

The past two seasons, the Cavs have made it back to the Finals twice (losing both times to the Warriors) with LeBron almost singlehandedly carrying them there in June. Later that month, he said he leaving once again, this time to California and unlike back in 2010, Clevelanders wished him good luck and thanked him for everything he gave on the floor.

He may now have taken his talents out west, but LeBron gave his hometown one more huge gift and that was I Promise. He brought a championship to Cleveland and now with his school, he’s helping make it easier for maybe the next LeBron to come out of Akron.

That kid will have some big shoes to fill though as their predecessor decided to not only give everything he had when he stepped on the floor but also whenever he stepped off it.

In some people’s minds, LeBron will never be the next Jordan or even the next Kobe Bryant now that he’s with the Lakers. They may even see him as a failure because he’s only won three titles in his nine appearances.

However, it’s not just about basketball with LeBron. It’s about making the world a better place at the same time and that’s something even more worth remembering.

LeBron isn’t just a great athlete, he’s shown that he’s a great person as well and that will be his true legacy.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net

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