- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
JAMES (laughing): You put my mother on the floor, and if she were in a Boston Celtics uniform, I'd break her face.
SHANE BATTIER: Remember the tip dunk he had? His head was above the rim. You say to yourself, This guy is on another planet. You're looking at the scoreboard, and he's got 18, then 28, then 36, and you're like, Holy crap, this is one of the best performances of all time.
JACK MEYER, Heat fan, then age nine: I'm the kid who said, "Good job, good effort," to LeBron after Game 5. I think my message got through. What I remember is how, on top of everything, he kept Paul Pierce down in Game 6. Pierce is one of the best players in the league, and he went 4 for 18.
MIMS: We landed in Miami, and the Celtics fan reached into his sport-coat pocket and pulled out his phone. He threw it back in real fast and didn't say anything. I walked to the bottom of the ramp, and the skycap saw my hat and said, "LeBron was amazing tonight." I said, "We won?" He said, "Man, LeBron put on a clinic. Look." And all the TVs in the concourse were showing him with that look. The skycap said, "That's what he looked like all night."
JAMES: If I was a fan, and someone came into our building and did to us what I did to them, I'd probably have thrown a beer on him too.
Harris Elementary School, the three-story brick building in North Hill where James used to play basketball with custodians before class, has been shuttered. SWAT teams use the halls for practice, and bullet casings litter the hardwood floors. James went to third grade at Harris and stayed for fourth, but he missed 80 days that year because he and his mother kept moving. Akron is filled with children growing up just as James did. Eighty-four percent of the city's public elementary school students live in poverty. James tried to help with his annual Bikeathon. Once a summer, for five years, he passed out AK-Rowdy bikes to 300 underprivileged kids and then rode with them through the streets. He even established a bike kitchen downtown where the kids could go for free repairs. "But that was it," says Michele Campbell, executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation. "It was one and done."
As a spokesman for State Farm's 26 Second Initiative, James learned that a student drops out of high school every 26 seconds, and he asked Campbell what they could do. Studies show that children come to the first major fork in their educational road around third grade. "There is a lot of research that tells us where kids are at third grade in terms of reading level [indicates] where they will be at 30," says David James, superintendent of Akron public schools. In April 2011, LeBron introduced Wheels for Education, and his foundation contacted every incoming third-grader in the Akron public school system deemed at-risk. They all received an invitation from "Mr. LeBron" to join his new program. "I was the same as them," James says. "I could have gone either way."
Last year 300 third-graders across 30 elementary schools signed up. This year 216 followed. To become Wheels for Education members, the students must complete a two-week "fall camp," and at the end James returns to Akron and gives each of them an AK-Rowdy bike. He also makes them recite "The Promise," which they shout in high-pitched voices as if it were the Pledge of Allegiance. "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!" In return James promises to be a positive role model and help where he can.
Every student in the Akron public schools is required to wear a collared shirt. James's students wear shirts emblazoned with a crown over the words THE LEBRON JAMES FAMILY FOUNDATION. "I PROMISE." They wear socks with a crown logo. If they stay home for a few days, they may wake up to this voice-mail message: "Hi, it's LeBron. Your teachers and friends are missing you at school. As soon as you feel better, get back in school and get back in the game." If they ace a few assignments, they may hear this: "Hey, it's LeBron. I heard you were a superstar at school this week. You are keeping our promise, and I am so proud of you. Keep up the great work at school."
In addition to the six recorded messages, James posts weekly on a Wheels for Education website and sends letters to the kids every month or so. "I read a lot of books this summer," he wrote in August. "I love to read. Reading is important because it helps us learn new things. Even though I am not in school anymore, I still read books." He shares book recommendations from his fiancée, Savannah, and their sons, LeBron Jr. and Bryce. Last spring James flew six standouts from Rankin Elementary School to Miami for the presentation of his MVP Award.