On the verge of the July 4 weekend as social media cracked its knuckles and prepared for a mother lode of holiday traffic, NBA star LeBron James did something that went largely unnoticed in basketball circles.
He got ready to renovate a house in Akron belonging to a middle-school student and her family.
The story didn’t didn’t fly under the radar on purpose. It was reported by Mary Beth Breckenridge for the Akron Beacon Journal on July 3 and also blogged by James himself four days later on his LeBron James Family Foundation website.
The 10-day Promise Project will be done in partnership with HGTV’s Nicole Curtis, star of reality TV’s The Rehab Addict which chronicles the renovation of distressed homes in Detroit and Minneapolis. This time, the setting will be Ohio.
In addition to the family home, nine yards will also be renovated around Akron—all benefiting families of children who are part of James’ Wheels for Education mentoring program.
That program is one of several created by James with an emphasis on giving back to his hometown community at a grassroots level—education and family support. It’s a fundamental concept that has proven out over time with countless other organizations—a prime example being Habitat for Humanity which began with a communal farm in the early 1940s. It’s the idea that sharing resources in exchange for demonstrable responsibility can in fact, have a positive effect.
Try selling that off a headline.
You’ll find plenty of support and enthusiasm for James’ efforts in and around Akron, regardless of where he signs his next basketball contract. And, his charitable efforts are not limited to Cleveland, or Miami. For all the fame and trappings, and yes the ego that can go with being a superstar athlete, James understands the efficacy of channeling resources to that most seminal stage of existence—childhood.
James has lived that life. Before the bright lights and headlines, he was a child of a single mom, sleeping on couches, moving frequently and by his own words, missing 82 out of 160 school days during the fourth grade. Helping hands reached out—the Walker family took James in and later, helped his mother Gloria secure an apartment.
That story and what followed has been told countless times—the dizzying ascension from elementary to prep school to the NBA, along with the inclusion of a number of James’ childhood friends who have since formed the nucleus of his management team.
Renovating homes and reality television has tapped a certain vein not entirely dissimilar from the feeding frenzy accompanying anticipation for LeBron’s next basketball move. TV viewers enjoy watching the reconstruction of some broken down house in 20 minutes, shot from a variety of appealing angles. And 20 year-old aficionados of fantasy hoops and Breaking Bad can’t get enough of third-source headlines trumpeting the King’s presumed decision about where he will or won’t earn his next paycheck.
And you can rest assured that James’ eventual choice will be accompanied in some part by glee and in larger part by mind-twisting vitriol and breathless analysis of “why did he do it?”
The renovation of a clapboard bungalow in Akron won’t go viral but the story will last longer. Not in online archives that become quickly buried due to lack of SEO traffic but in actual life experience.
Somewhere off the headline grid a kid will get up, get dressed and walk out the door. And the world will be just a little bigger. They say you can't go home again. But sometimes you already have.