It's Yet to Be Seen if LeBron Will Raise a Banner in Cleveland, But He's Already Delivering a Winner to Akron Kids

King Midas

It's Yet to be Seen if LeBron Will Raise a Banner in Cleveland, But He's Already Delivering a Winner to Akron Kids

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Given all the gray, sunless skies we've endured literally and metaphorically, you shouldn't underestimate the power of just feeling good supporting a winning team. That simple but vague feeling is the most substantial effect to be found in any sports-related studies, according to Matheson.

"A good example of this is the 2006 World Cup which was held in Germany and was wildly successful both for the German National Team as well as the country," he says. "But economists going back and looking didn't find big increases in tourism spending. No big increases in incomes or employment. But they did find a big increase in the self-reported happiness of Germans. These things might make us happy, but they aren't going to make us rich."

Then again it depends on how you localize the effect. Restricted free agents Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova not only have seen their careers soar in the past season, but this summer, their bank balances will see similar boosts.

This is not unusual. All his life, James has cultivated the ability to enrich the lives of those around him. From high school teammate and business manager Maverick Carter to former college coaching exile Keith Dambrot, so many have been blessed by their associations with James that one hesitates to doubt his ability to extend that gift to an entire region.

"When he first went to St. Vincent-St. Mary, the school didn't have a lot of students and now they're doing very well," says Dambrot, who coached LeBron at SVSM and who now coaches the University of Akron's thriving basketball program. "He took a former college coach and resurrected his career, and with the shoe deal and the equipments deal he's resurrected our program. He resurrected the Cavaliers. He brought a championship to the Heat.

"You say the halo effect, it's more like the Midas Touch," says Dambrot. "Everything he's touched has turned to gold."

James never has lacked ambition. And, generally, his pursuit of glory and success never has been simply for his own sake, but also for those around him.

With his namesake foundation, he takes on an even bigger challenge: leveraging his spirit and stature as a role model to change Akron's high-school graduation rate. No small task.

If there's anyone that understands that it takes a village to raise a child, it's James. When his mother and he were struggling, a family that knew him through recreation sports offered to take him in for a year so Gloria could focus on improving her situation. That year provided James not only with a stable home, but the discipline he lacked. His grades and attendance turned around, setting stage for his athletic exploits to fully bloom.

So in 2011, the LeBron James Family Foundation began a program in concert with Akron public schools to identify rising third graders at the highest risk for dropping out and bring them into LJFF's newly reconfigured Wheels for Education program.

"We look to identify students at the third-grade level because studies and analysis show us that is the age where a child is most likely to fall through the cracks," explains Desiree Bolden, manager of extended learning for Akron Public Schools, who helps identify the kids.

"Akron public schools use a variety of factors," she continues. "The primary and most pivotal part of the equation is test scores. Upon analyzing incoming third graders' test scores in fundamental areas including math and reading comprehension, we determine which students may be in need of additional educational support."

In order to participate, the child must attend third grade in Akron (those who come to Akron later are ineligible at this point), and must complete a two-week pre-fall technology camp funded by the Foundation and held at their local school.

As long as the child and parent(s) attend eight of the camp's 10 days, they'll remain in the program until they graduate high school nine years later. They currently have 800 kids and expect to have 1,000 by next school year. By that math, LJFF's enrollment will double before they graduate their first kids in 2021.

Not everyone who's eligible does participate (and they're studying why), but those we talked to seemed ecstatic at their kids' turnaround.

Upon completion of the camp, the children also receive a bike. This is sort of a legacy from the Foundation's earliest efforts, where they gave away bikes as part of an Akron area bike-a-thon. The bikes were personally emblematic of freedom and self-agency for James.

"It was something I did as a kid that drove me away from all the hardships that I was going through. It gave me and my friends a sense of... just to be able to get away from it and travel around my city," LeBron says. "It gave us a brotherhood and a sense of being able to forget whatever we were going though at the time. It's just my way of showing my appreciation not only to the city for that outlet but to the kids as well."

The initial bike-a-thon had solicited local agencies and groups for nominees to receive a bike. Recipients then rode around Akron with James for the day. But the LJFF realized such one-and-done events, while an overall positive for the community, weren't focused enough to produce the kind of change James hoped to foment.

Like anything, it was a learning process (nothing is given, everything is earned, as some fella once said). The first year they gave out laptops before realizing, as great as that was, it wasn't having the expected results.

"We thought, 'Oh my god, we're going give away laptops, this is so great,'" recalls Rosa. "It's probably better if you give them to the school. A lot of families don't have access to the Internet. They don't know how to use a computer. So that was a big mistake, but it really taught us we had to get these experts together quicker because it might look good or sound good, but it was not the right thing to do."

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