Game Change Nation

The True Greatness of LeBron James

Photo by Michelle Farsi/Getty Images

The chosen one.

LeBron James was still only a junior in high school when he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The cover headline called LeBron “the chosen one” and named him the heir apparent to NBA legend Michael Jordan. After graduating from high school, LeBron was the number one overall pick in the NBA Draft and his ensuing spectacular basketball career proved the cover to be prophetic.

LeBron excelled so highly at basketball at such a young age, that it is hard to believe that football was his first love and that he almost didn’t even play organized sports.

LeBron’s mother, Gloria had him at the age of 16 and raised him as a single mom. Although Gloria has been widely credited with being a great mom who poured love into LeBron, the family’s dire financial situation caused them to move around a lot and often sleep on the couches of friends in their hometown of Akron, Ohio.

ESPN told the story that when LeBron was in fourth grade, he was a lonely kid that missed over 80 days of school that year because he and his mom moved around so much that it became challenging just to get to school. During this period, he was spotted by Bruce Kelker, a local youth football coach who was putting together a team and was impressed by his size. LeBron not only had size, he had speed so Kelker made him the team running back.

LeBron was handed the ball on his first ever play from scrimmage and he ran 80 yards for a touchdown. Then everything changed. LeBron discovered he was good at sports and his confidence grew from there. But something else, more important, happened that would impact the rest of his life.

Kelker and his girlfriend allowed Gloria and LeBron to move in with them. Gloria became the team mom and a support system, that LeBron previously lacked, was found through sports.

The love, loyalty, and support that LeBron received from his coaches and his community manifested itself into the man that LeBron became and he never forgot it after becoming one of the greatest players in the history of basketball. He has taken great care to share his treasure with the less fortunate in numerous places, but especially for the kids where he grew up in Akron.

The Atlantic reported on the foundation created by LeBron that has provided thousands of students from Akron with full scholarships to attend Akron University and Kent State. He also never forgot the struggles that he faced when in elementary school and created the I Promise School for at-risk kids to give them the stable learning environment that he didn’t have.

Lebron might now be identified as a star basketball player, but the real indication of who he has become can better be measured in the lives he has changed because of his decision to emulate those that helped him and do the same for so many others.

Lebron’s decision to share the fruits of his talents to help young people didn’t stop him from continuing to pursue his dream to be the best basketball player he could be. You can, and should, strive to be your best self while also taking the time to serve the needs of others.

Lebron’s choice to do this undoubtedly made him a better person, but interestingly, it might have made him a better basketball player too. Becoming an all-star and winning championships grows his earning potential that can be used to help his family, friends, and people in the community so now LeBron isn’t just playing for himself, it is to serve others. This sense of purpose plays a powerful role in helping people achieve their goals. It is why teams that play for each other instead of for themselves are the ones who win championships.

As you think about who you want to become, your career is certainly a big part of that equation, but you should also be asking yourself what kind of person you want to become. What kind of friend, spouse, parent, and community member do you want to be? What are your dreams? How do your dreams impact others?

You may not know the answers to these questions. As you think about who you want to become, dive inward to understand where your real passions reside and how your past experiences have shaped who you are today.

Imagine the day after winning a major trophy in sports, business, or life. What would you do next? Who would it be with? What would be your underlying purpose or motivation that drove you to win that trophy? The answers to these questions make up some of the pieces of the puzzle of who you want to become.


Wahl, Grant, “Ahead of His Class Ohio High School Junior LeBron James Is so Good That He’s Already Being Mentioned as the Heir to Air Jordan – Sports Illustrated Vault,” Sports Illustrated Vault,, February 18, 2002,

Saslow, Eli, “Lost Stories Of LeBron, Part 1,” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, October 17, 2013,

Emily Deruy and National Journal, “LeBron James Will Give College Scholarships to Thousands of Students,” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, August 17, 2015,

Davis, Scott, “LeBron James’ Commitment to Send Kids from His School to College Could One Day Reach over $100 Million,” Business Insider, Business Insider, July 31, 2018,

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