AKRON– LeBron James has a new title to go with his NBA Championship ring.
Sports Illustrated revealed on Monday that the magazine is naming the Akron native their ‘Sportsman of the Year’ for 2012.
In making that announcement, the magazine makes the argument that James has grown up since leaving St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron for the NBA.
Sports writer Lee Jenkins writes that LeBron is not the magazine’s sportsman for 2010 when he left the Cavaliers, announcing his departure in what Jenkins calls a ‘misguided television special.’
The magazine focuses on James’ early years in Akron and attributes their decision on contributions James continues to make to school children in his boyhood home town.
“He’s not only done well on a basketball court, but he’s done exceptionally well here with the Akron Public Schools,” said Schumacher Community Learning Center Principal Brandi Davis, who is featured in the Sports Illustrated video about James.
Davis credits James with committing to the future of school children through his Family Foundation’s ‘I Promise’ program that encourages kids to say in school, get good grades and graduate.
“He sends home postcards just checking up on you to make sure that you are staying in school and he’s also given ‘I promise’ (wrist) bands and what those bands represent. You know if a student makes a milestone, if they have had perfect attendance at the Akron after school program, they haven’t gotten into any trouble he promises them a band,” said Davis.
Davis says James comes to the schools and reads to students when he is in Akron and even follows up with their parents.
Within the Akron School District, LeBron James is a different kind of hero than to those who admire his abilities on a basketball court.
“I can tell you first-hand, LeBron has been in our schools many times in the last year and a half. He has been connected with Akron after school and Akron Public Schools and it hasn’t been a media event. It’s been genuine.” said Desiree Bolden, Director of the district’s after-school programs.
Fourth Grader Tyler Trice is in the ‘I Promise’ program and was among classmates who were flown to Miami to witness James getting an MVP trophy earlier this year.
“I think of LeBron James as a good person,” said Trice.
His mother says she uses James’ name to try and motivate her son when he needs it around the house.
“When Tyler is not doing what he is supposed to do, I keep reminding him about LeBron. He’s not going to do anything with LeBron unless he can do his school work first and keep up the grades,” said Shonta Trice.
The LeBron James Family Foundation’s first contribution to Akron Schools was to give 1,000 laptops to the district for children to use.
He also rewards students who attend a fall camp with bicycles.
Part of the proceeds from his ‘decision’ television program also helped create a boys and girls club in Akron where additional computers are giving children access to the internet so they can do homework after school.
At the Joy Park Clubhouse, staff members believe James is well deserving of his new title.
“The work we do is critical because most of the kids we serve are at risk. 90 percent of the kids we serve are eligible for free or reduced lunch and so LeBron saw that that was obviously,” said Teresa Legrair, the center’s President; adding “Youth are something that he is passionate about.”
Even those who appreciate James for his contributions understand that there are basketball fans in Cleveland who have grown to hate LeBron James for the way he departed.
“It’s very disappointing because if they could just see all of the things that he has done for the children in Akron and all of the support that he gives to not just Akron Public Schools but to the city of Akron, they would see that he is a man and a basketball player. He’s a phenomenal man and a phenomenal basketball player,” said Davis.
In being named the magazine’s ‘Sportsman of the Year’, LeBron joins other notable athletes; some of whom have their own tarnished records like Tiger Woods, Joe Paterno and Pete Rose. Others who have received the honor include James’ teammate Dwyane Wade and basketball greats Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The Sports Illustrated ‘Sportsman of the Year’ edition will be on news stands this Wednesday.