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Marla Ridenour on Sports

Rev. Jesse Jackson praises 'odds-breaker' LeBron James for giving back to Akron

By Marla Ridenour Published: August 9, 2013

LeBron James’ recent $1 million donation to renovate his old gymnasium at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and the continuing work of his foundation in Akron prompted Rev. Jesse Jackson to praise James in a telephone call to the Beacon Journal on Friday afternoon.

Jackson said he was preparing for the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington on Aug. 28 and had been thinking about King and his relationship with professional athletes.

Jackson called James “an odds-buster” and a “dream maker” and said King would have loved to meet James.

“Dr. King would be so excited to meet LeBron,” Jackson said. “That’s why he spent time with [Muhammed] Ali. Ali meant that to a generation for different reasons -- progress in the boxing ring and a consciousness beyond the ring. He knew Ali quite well and he knew Jim Brown quite well. Dr. King was attracted to the role of athletes, that’s what Sampson did in the Bible with David.”

Here’s what Jackson went on to say in a telephone conversation about Miami Heat star James:

“In these urban ghettos, we’ve abandon the summer job prospects for the children, the unemployment’s above maybe 50 percent. … discrimination in distributing marijuana, arrests and prostitution, various forms of stand your ground laws, discrimination in suspensions from school and explosives and all of that. In the middle of all that emerges LeBron James. I think Dr. King would be proud of King LeBron James. I watched him grow from a prince to a king because he’s achieved excellence in his athletic career, but also his social consciousness, which would have made Dr. King so proud.

“His public displays of dignity have deemed him worthy of being one of the best role models in the nation. He has assumed responsibility for his success and failures. His public decorum is outstanding. His leadership off the court takes him a realm above the rim. So many players are excellent models of athletic prowess on the field, on the court, that’s their vertical reach, but their horizontal outreach is much limited, spent on things glossy and foolish. LeBron seems to never forget the odds of his upbringing and the travails of his mother. In many ways he is a living, successful Trayvon Martin. Of all the things he has said in his many press conferences and public appearances, nothing would have impressed Dr. King more than when he won his last championship. Someone asked him about criticism and he responded, ‘I was not supposed to be here.’ LeBron is an odds-buster and a dream-maker and deserves support of the nation. I’m so proud of him.

Q: Have you talked to him in person lately?

A: “Not lately. I see him when he comes to Chicago. Part of our Rainbow PUSH work is we’ve organized life beyond the playing field, life beyond being the high school star -- going to college and graduating. Not just March Madness and then they don’t graduate. Every now and then a role model emerges with a strength and a passion on the court and character. I think that’s why Dr. King would be proud of king LeBron James.

“I know Dwyane Wade’s mother quite well, she’s a pastor here in the city. He’s doing a camp for the children, scholarships for the children, the foundation. That’s the just way great athletes should behave. If you have a champion, every time you have another game, champions win the big game and champions ride on the people’s shoulders. Heroes are different. People ride on a hero’s shoulders. LeBron is an authentic hero and his constant references to inner city Akron is what mayors and legislators cannot provide, a source of hope and material substance. When these kids go awry, we pass judgments. When they do something this magnificent, we ought to call someone like you and say thank you. I thought we should give some perspective to what he means beyond Akron.

Q: LeBron is getting married soon, what do you think of that?

A: “That’s another statement. He cherishes his children.”

Q: Do you think he will return to Cleveland to play?

A: “He made a solid business decision. He was with Cleveland seven years. He played out his service and he made a business decision to move on. That should have been respected. I think there’s a greater appreciation of it now. He played out his term and made his big marketing decision and it proved out to be right. As exciting as Miami Beach is, he still comes back to Akron, that’s what I appreciate. Many people don’t feed the flower that they rob. He’s feeding the flower that he robbed. Kids white and black can gravitate to that.”

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