Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition
LeBron has a strong legacy off the court
Mya Smiley is a student at the University of Akron thanks to an assist from LeBron James, and she is determined upon graduation to become a social worker that helps foster kids.
Her education and career path would not have been possible, the sophomore says, were it not for a scholarship and counseling that 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 an imminent coronation as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer — it is James’ ambitious pursuits off-the-court that may ultimately distinguish his legacy from other superstar athletes’.
James co-founded a successful media and entertainment company, bought stakes in storied professional baseball and soccer franchises and, with a big assist from product endorsements, his net worth is estimated to have grown above $1 billion. The off-court achievement that James is most proud of, he says, is working to uplift 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 done all of them as well as James, who is closing in on passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s career scoring record.
“His goal, I believe, is to have 10% of his wealth go to causes and support communities, which is an amazing goal,” said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, a professor of sports management at George Washington University.
James is, by any measure, an overwhelming success. And he makes Smiley — one of the many people in Akron who have received financial support from his foundation — believe that she can be a success as well.
“If I did not have the LeBron program, I probably wouldn’t have ever gone to college. I would be living in a not-so-positive environment,” said the 19-yearold Smiley. “His ability to help people’s futures is what makes LeBron a great person.”
James, who entered the NBA straight after high school in 2003, planned early on to use his talents, fame — and, yes, his growing financial resources — to have on impact on the world beyond basketball.
“Even before I got into the NBA, I knew I wanted to find a way to give back to my community,” said James. Although James bounced from home to home during his childhood, and experienced financial insecurity for many of those years, he also was given enormous support from friends, neighbors and educators.
The LeBron James Family Foundation, founded in 2004, at first gained local attention by giving away bikes and backpacks. Then it began looking at afterschool programs, with students scattered across several dozen schools, and eventually created a public school currently serving about 575 third through eighth graders. Today the school includes a family resource center that provides a wide-range of services to parents, including mental health, financial literacy, legal aid and GED courses. Just down the street from the school, the foundation provides rent-free housing to as many as 16 different families and it has plans to build 50 units of affordable housing.
“I couldn’t have guessed how much it would grow,” James said in late January. “But we got here by listening and responding to our community and what they need.”
James has all the money and all the fame that he ever wanted or needed. His NBA records, including the scoring title, are going to last for a very long time. As will his off-court endeavors. “His ability to help others and put others first is what makes him a great person,” Smiley said. “Not the baskets he shot.”