AKRON, Ohio – Until Monday night’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, LeBron James had been on pretty remarkable winning run.
The Miami Heat star and four-time NBA MVP has been on quite a giving spree, too.
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Plans were announced last week for the gymnasium at James’ alma mater, Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, to be completely refurbished. James has pledged $1 million to cover the cost of what will be named LeBron James Arena.
If all goes well, construction on the new gym will start shortly after school lets out early next month. It was at an assembly early in the school year honoring James for being a part of USA Basketball’s gold medal-winning team at the London Olympics last summer that James promised to purchase new uniforms for every athletic team St. V-M fields.
“He kind of took the microphone and started asking the kids which sports they played and if they’d like brand-new uniforms,” St. V-M athletic director Andy Jalwan said. “The first girl he called on said she ran cross country, and LeBron said, ‘Then cross country will get new uniforms.’ The next girl said she was in our Irish Dancing club, and LeBron said they’ll get new Nike dancing uniforms, too.
“He was serious about it. We’ve been working with the Nike reps on getting all new uniforms for next year.”
Said Dru Joyce, the St. V-M basketball coach since James’ junior year: “He’s always serious about it. A million dollars — and then some — is a serious amount of money. I think people try to count his money sometimes, but it’s all his push here. We’ve talked about the gym for a long time. This school and helping kids in general are in his heart and at the forefront of things he takes very seriously.”
It still goes deeper. Ten Akron Public Schools students were on hand at James’ MVP ceremony last weekend in Miami as part of the LeBron James Family Foundation’s “I Promise” program. The students were rewarded for their academic performance, perfect attendance, high character and other criteria established by the foundation and James’ Wheels For Education program.
Helping chaperone those students on their trip was Desiree Bolden, who oversees the Akron Public Schools’ growing Akron After School supplemental educational program. As part of Kia Motors sponsorship of the NBA MVP award, James was awarded a new 2014 Kia SUV. James has a habit of donating his prize back to his hometown, and for the second consecutive year he’s donated to the car to the Akron After School program.
Kia will make a monetary donation that matches the value of the new car later this month.
“And it will come right in time,” Bolden said. “Our summer technology camp has 300 additional students this year, and this will come in handy.”
In 2009, he donated the KIA portion of his MVP prize to the Urban League of Akron, and in 2010 he donated to the Summa Foundation.
Joyce said that when it’s completed, LeBron James Arena will be a “signature place” for St. V-M basketball and other events. Joyce said he got a call that “LeBron was ready to move” on the gymnasium project earlier this spring, and Jalwan said meetings have been ongoing regarding replacing the gym that was built in the 1950s as a free-standing structure and predates the current school, which was built when St. Vincent and St. Mary’s merged in 1972.
“I’ve been getting messages from every gymnasium equipment dealer in the country over the last few days,” Jalwan said. “Replacing the bleachers and the floor in the gym were reaching the point of necessity, and people know when we get the other details worked out that this thing, with LeBron’s name on it, is going to be a top-notch facility.”
Joyce said the 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.
“LeBron is really excited about the whole gym idea,” Joyce said. “He realizes that people look back at his time in high school as when he really took off, and he cares about it being done right. He wants to make sure the bleachers are close to the court. He wants to create a place that’s new but still gives us a chance to have a real home-court advantage.
“He’s been blessed in many ways, and he’s always been interested in sharing those blessings.”
Said Bolden: “He’s our hometown hero. He’s giving back and in doing so letting a lot of people know that he cares.”