James spares no expense in giving back to alma mater
AKRON, Ohio – There are perks to being associated with four-time NBA MVP LeBron James. They’re often shiny and almost always involve a swoosh.
That never really hit home with Dante Booker Jr. until last Saturday night, when Booker found himself in the football locker room at Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary High School standing next to James — and in front of the new Nike uniforms James donated to his alma mater.
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James himself suited up in the all-black version while Booker, who’s committed to play linebacker at Ohio State after graduation next June, modeled the green. More than 2,000 fans awaited in the adjacent stadium knowing they were going to see James but not knowing exactly what to expect from the uniforms.
That included Booker, who got no preview before being told to suit up.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Booker said. “It was an awesome opportunity.”
A few minutes later they were officially introduced, James in the No. 9 he wore for the three years he played football at the school.
It was at an assembly last fall honoring James for being a part of USA Basketball’s gold medal-winning team at the London Olympics that James — unbeknownst to any school administrators — promised to purchase new uniforms for every athletic team St. V-M fields.
This summer, he’s delivering on that promise.
“We’ve never had anything too fancy or really special when it comes to uniforms, and it’s unbelievable how special this is,” St. V-M football coach Dan Boarman said. “I just think this is the best thing going. The kindness LeBron has shown us, the generosity…it’s impossible to put into words.”
St. V-M will wear the black uniform in its Aug. 29 season opener, in large part because that’s the only game James is sure he’ll be able to attend. Boarman said the black helmets will only be worn with the black uniforms.
Last spring, St. V-M basketball coach Dru Joyce said the all-sport uniform project will end up costing James in the neighborhood of $250-300,000. James has been donating gear and shoes to the basketball program at St. V-M since he signed with Nike in 2003, and Joyce estimates the annual cost of that gift at between $20-25,000.
Add a cool $1 million for the gym that’s currently being renovated at the south end of the school that will be called LeBron James Arena when it’s completed, and James has been on a heck of a giving spree.
Before Saturday night’s event concluded he posed with other St. V-M athletes as they modeled their new uniforms. Golfers, runners, soccer and tennis players and cheerleaders will all be wearing new Nike uniforms this fall, though the football uniforms — and the 28-year old megastar wearing one of them — created the most buzz.
“They remind me of Oregon’s uniforms,” Booker’s St. V-M teammate and Ohio State commit Parris Campbell said. “All people kept saying is, ‘Wow, those are sweet.’ And no one knew LeBron was coming out wearing it, so people went crazy when he did.”