Most Americans don't need an introduction to LeBron James, but I suspect many readers of this blog do not follow sports carefully, and I know that in the past month there have been readers here from over a hundred countries*, so a few words of explanation are in order.
LeBron James is arguably the best basketball player ever to play the sport. He went directly to the pros from high school without playing in college. Those interested can browse his biography for the sports statistics - I want to focus on some other aspects of his life.
His exceptional athletic skills have not surprisingly resulted in huge salaries and lucrative endorsement contracts (he was signed by Nike - when he left high school - for $90 million). In 2016 he was the third-highest earning athlete in the world (after Ronaldo and Messi).
That fame and fortune is not blogworthy, in my view; there are lots of extremely wealthy professional athletes. I'm writing this post because of what he has done with some of that money. NBC Nightly News featured the story this week:
For those speed-reading the post and without time for a minute-long video, here are the key points about the school as described in Time:
The most unique feature of the school may be the most ordinary: it’s a traditional public school. Celebrities often back charter schools... Or they open unorthodox private schools... James made a point of giving Akron a new public school. “It’s not a charter school, it’s not a private school, it’s a real-life school in my hometown.”This is a comprehensive approach to education that is way different from the typical charitable gift
That said, the school is far from traditional. Its lengthy school day runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., along with an extended school year that runs from July through May. During a seven-week summer session, the school will provide STEM-based camps. Students will spend time each day on social-emotional learning, and participate in a “supportive circle” after lunch aimed at helping them refocus on work, reports.
Nutrition is also central to the school’s mission. Every day students will receive free breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks. They will have access to a fitness trainer. James says that, as a kid, he used his bicycle to explore different neighborhoods of Akron — so he gave one to every incoming student...
Since the school considers education to be not just for the pupil but for the whole family, it will offer GED classes and job placement assistance for parents and guardians...
The school selected area students from among those who trail their peers by a year or two in academic performance... The school is launching with third- and fourth-graders, but plans to add grades each year until it houses first through eighth grade in 2022.
Students get one other notable benefit: If they successfully complete the school program and graduate from high school, James will cover their full tuition at the local public college, University of Akron.
that just funds a building with someone's name on it. James grew up in poverty in Akron, born to a 16-year-old mother and an absent father. He understands that a modern school building and curriculum will not lead to success unless the students also have adequate nutrition and an improved home environment. Also note the rigorous schedule: the school day is eight hours long and the academic year is 10 months long. And note they chose students not based on prior success, but on prior failure - those trailing their peers in performance.
The next point to make. LeBron James is the man to whom Laura Ingraham famously said "Shut up and dribble," when he had the effrontery to criticize Trump in an ESPN video.
The above is a screencap; the 2-minute commentary is embedded at this NPR site. She gives viewers a "dumb jock" alert before showing a clip of James "talking politics again," which she describes as "barely intelligible not to mention ungrammatical." "Unfortunately a lot of kids and some adults take these ignorant comments seriously.... This is what happens when you leave high school early to join the NBA... Lebron and Kevin, you're great players, but nobody voted for you; millions elected Trump to be their coach. So keep the political commentary to yourself, or as someone once said, 'shut up and dribble.'"
James responded to her: "We will definitely not shut up and dribble. ... I mean too much to society, too much to the youth, too much to so many kids who feel like they don't have a way out...
That was background. Here's what came next...
Two days ago, after LeBron's school was publicized, Donald Trump mocked LeBron's intelligence and education:
(The "Mike" he is referring to is basketball player Michael Jordan). Trump was responding to a public statement by LeBron James that Trump is "dividing America":
“We’re in a position right now in America where this whole race thing is taking over. One, because I believe our president is trying to divide us. He’s dividing us, and what I’ve noticed over the last few months is that he’s kind of used sport to kind of divide us. That’s something that I can’t relate to, because I know that sport was the first time I ever was around someone white. I got an opportunity to see them and learn about them, and they got an opportunity to learn about me, and we became very good friends. I was like this is all because of sports. And sports has never been something that divided people. It’s always been something that brings someone together.”But wait... there's more...
I noticed this week an article in the Washington Post about a crucial special election to replace a Republican who resigned in January coming up this week... in Ohio..
Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, which spans the largely well-to-do suburbs around the state capital and backed President Trump by 11 points in 2016, has been solidly Republican for decades...Special elections are often determined by voter turnout. So here is a special election for a historically Republican seat in Congress that is now a statistical tossup and at risk of being flipped by the Democrats, and just before the election Donald Trump disrespects the most popular athlete in the state.
But after a string of Republican special-election losses over the past year in areas that voted for Trump but have grown less supportive of him, the vote here on Tuesday to replace Tiberi has suddenly emerged as the latest big test foreshadowing which party will win control of the House in November...
...the 31-year-old Democratic candidate, Danny O’Connor, has kept apace with [the Republican candidate] Balderson, with the latest Monmouth University poll showing the race to be a statistical dead heat...
In a freewheeling 70-minute rally inside a sweltering high school gymnasium Saturday night, Trump briefly promoted Balderson as “really tough . . . really smart” and “the guy that’s gonna do things,” while belittling O’Connor as “a low-level person that did nothing.”
Democrats on the ground say Trump’s visit would only galvanize their efforts in the few days before the election.
The Republican will probably still win, but I think I'll bookmark this as an example if/when I ever blog a discussion of the term "tone deaf."
Update: O'Connor is losing by a vote of 50.2% to 49.3% (and Green party candidate 0.6%) with 100% counted but absentee and provisional ballots outstanding.
Blogger's note: I've spent a couple hours today researching and composing this post, so this will be all my blogging for a day or two. I would prefer that any comments about this post focus on LeBron James and/or on public education etc. I plan to delete any comments about Trump/Ingraham etc because at the moment I just don't have time to wade through a shitstorm of political bickering. I'm due to write another q3monthly "Trump clump" in another couple weeks; save those comments for then.
Addendum: A tip of the hat to reader Bulletholes for locating an article from Cleveland that provides some details regarding the expenditures by LeBron James vs. those of the school district in developing and maintaining this school and its curriculum.
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Top photo via Sports Illustrated.