The Daily Iowan

Leonard: LeBron uses his platform to do more than ‘shut up and dribble’

Cleveland+Cavaliers+forward+LeBron+James+shares+a+laugh+in+warm-ups+before+taking+on+the+Oklahoma+City+Thunder+on+Saturday%2C+Jan.+20%2C+2018%2C+at+Quicken+Loans+Arena+in+Cleveland%2C+Ohio.+The+Thunder+won%2C+148-124.+%28Leah+Klafczynski%2FAkron+Beacon+Journal%2FTNS%29
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James shares a laugh in warm-ups before taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The Thunder won, 148-124. (Leah Klafczynski/Akron Beacon Journal/TNS)

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James shares a laugh in warm-ups before taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The Thunder won, 148-124. (Leah Klafczynski/Akron Beacon Journal/TNS)

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James shares a laugh in warm-ups before taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The Thunder won, 148-124. (Leah Klafczynski/Akron Beacon Journal/TNS)

Braxton Leonard, [email protected]

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When we think of basketball, we think of LeBron James. The two have been synonymous since the kid from Akron burst onto the scene more than a decade ago and became one of the most polarizing athletes that basketball has seen. With a net worth of nearly $440 million and a larger-than-life persona, we tend to forget LeBron’s humble beginnings. We also tend to overlook his selfless and generous acts off of the court.

Last week, through joint efforts from his foundation and the Akron, Ohio, school system, LeBron opened the “I Promise” school in his hometown. The school will welcome 240 at-risk and low-income students in its inaugural class, and it will offer programs and amenities that are vital for the success of the students.

The I Promise students and their families face a number of different challenges that many of us are lucky enough not to deal with. Besides giving these young kids a chance at something greater, LeBron promotes education and gives a voice to the kids who are often swept aside and left in the dust. The type of kid that LeBron easily could have been.

One thing that tends to be left by the wayside for athletes is the value of education. When someone demonstrates extreme athleticism, I think it’s easy to assume that this can carry a person all the way to the promised land. The lights, the fame, the money, everything that comes with an accomplished sports career. The odds, however, are realistically stacked against most people.

There is no foreseeing the adversity that people may face, which iterates the importance of having an education to fall back on and to carry them once the game is over for good. Though LeBron has been lucky enough to stay healthy throughout his career, it is clear that he recognizes his blessings and understands that others may not be so lucky.

Throughout his career, he has recognized the importance of education and advocated for it on various platforms. Despite entering the NBA Draft right out of high school, thus missing out on a college education, he has worked diligently to promote and diversify education, offer equal opportunity to it to everyone, and remind young students and student-athletes that it is as important as anything.

LeBron is no stranger to adversity — he struggled his way through the Akron public-school system growing up. His father wasn’t around, and his young mother, Gloria, did what she could to give him a normal, steady childhood. Many times, however, he had no way to get to school, and it led to many missed classes. As he grew older, his freakish and undeniable athletic ability began to shine, leading his peers and mentors to instill the value of education in him, because it would be crucial to taking himself to the next level.

Had it not been for his talent gaining him special interest and assistance from those around him, LeBron may have never reached where he is today. We may have missed out on one of the most miraculous, breathtaking talents the world has ever seen. Unfortunately, many at-risk youth aren’t given such a chance, and they may never reach their full potential purely because of lack of education. It’s disheartening to think about all of the talent that we miss out on and the lack of hope that we give so many people, just because they lack access to some of the things many of us are lucky to have always known.

LeBron is the brunt of a lot of jokes and unwarranted hatred from sports fans, but one thing is undeniable — his greatness both on and off the court have been solidified in history forever.

What he is doing is not only impressive but so important. Celebrities, and athletes specifically, can so easily reach the youth. Athletes are some of the biggest role models and most recognizable names and faces to many kids growing up, and the things that they say and do can ultimately shape the future of our youth. I think it’s time we give LeBron some more credit, not only as one of the greatest athletes we’ve ever seen but one of the most respectable and honorable voices of our era.

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