AKRON. Ohio – LeBron James the basketball player has left Ohio again. But this morning, the footprint of LeBron James, the philanthropist, got even bigger in his home state.
James, who this month ended his second stay with the Cleveland Cavaliers by signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, has opened a public school for challenged children in his hometown.
The NBA great admitted to having “jitters” before the opening, an event he said is “going to be one of the greatest moments – if not the greatest – of my life.”
The I Promise School initially will house 240 third- and fourth-graders. The Akron school will expand each year, adding second and fifth grades next year and will have students from grades 1-8 by 2022.
James was at the school today to welcome students and make his first public comments since deciding to join the Lakers.
James spent 11 seasons with the Cavs, winning a title in 2016 to end Cleveland’s 52-year drought without a pro sports championship. His departure ended a four-year run with the Cavs after he returned in 2014 following four seasons with the Miami Heat.
Following his eighth straight appearance in the NBA Finals, James said he was still in “championship mode” as he headed into free agency. But he’s going to a Lakers team that missed the playoffs again last season and seems years away from competing for a title in the rugged Western Conference.
James was also drawn to Los Angeles by the appeal of playing for one of the league’s most storied programs and the chance to work with Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ president and a player James idolized since he was a kid.
James also chose Los Angeles in part because it represents the next chapter in his life. He already owns homes there and he has a film production company in the city.
Much has been written about James’ turbulent childhood in Akron. In fourth grade, for example, he missed more than 16 weeks worth of school days. The LeBron James Family Foundation sought a way to help families like the one he grew up in, providing children with an education, a path to college and support services for them and their parents.
“We are going to be that groundbreaking school that will be a nationally recognized model for urban and public school excellence,” I Promise principal and Akron native Brandi Davis told USA Today. “We are letting people know it is about true wrap-around support, true family integration and true compassion.”
Students were selected for the inaugural class based on their academic history.
“Looking at reading data, we identified students who were a year, two years behind in reading,” Keith Liechty, the Akron Public Schools’ liaison to James’ foundation, told the newspaper. “From that, we had more than 120 kids. We had to put a cap on it so we could fit under one roof. We did a random selection of all students who met that criteria and got to make these awesome phone calls to parents and say, ‘How would you like to be part of something different, the I Promise School.’”
The school year will run from July 30 through May 17, and then will resume for a seven-week summer school. Students will attend weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.