LeBron James extends charity efforts
MIAMI -- The side door to the newly refurbished gym opened, a blast of sunlight splashed into the darkened corner, and 100 children began shrieking in unison.
LeBron James was thrilled.
"It never gets old," James said.
That was the reception Wednesday when the LeBron James Family Foundation and Hewlett-Packard began rolling out what will soon be 1,000 new computers to 59 different Boys & Girls Clubs nationwide. At the Miami club, the roof is getting replaced and workspaces for kids are being spruced up with furniture from the HomeCourt line that James designs with girlfriend Savannah Brinson.
It's all part of the commitment James made last summer, when his hour-long "The Decision" special on July 8, 2010 -- in which he said he was joining the Miami Heat -- raised more than $3 million for charity.
"I know a lot comes with being a professional athlete," James said in an interview with The Associated Press. "That's also being a role model to a lot of kids that look up to me. This automatically comes with it. And I have nothing but time for kids. I could easily be at home and just relaxing. ... But the opportunity to be here and giving back to these kids, I'm happy to do it."
James mingled with the kids for a while after a short ceremony, checking out the new computers -- loaded with many of the newest bells and whistles -- and posing for photos. One girl won a contest to have her bedroom redesigned by James and Brinson, and outside, people waited with their cell-phone cameras poised in hopes of catching a brief glimpse of the NBA's two-time MVP.
At one of the busiest stages of the NBA season, James said he welcomed the idea of taking an afternoon away from basketball.
"Kids are a huge passion of mine," James said. "I always said when I was growing up, 'If I ever have an opportunity, if I ever got big enough, whatever the case may be, I will always try to give back as much as possible.'"
Strange as it sounds, James may never have been bigger than on the night of "The Decision."
An estimated 10 million people watched the show, which elicited all sorts of reaction the minute he infamously said that he would "take my talents to South Beach" and join the Heat.
James has said many times that he regrets certain aspects of the hastily arranged program, but adds that the money it raised made it more than worth doing.
"Very few people, with one hour of their day, one hour of their life -- that's all that show was -- can impact this many people," said Boys & Girls Clubs Vice President Frank Sanchez.
Sanchez said he believes "hundreds of thousands of kids" nationwide will be impacted by what James is providing. The northwest Miami neighborhood which hosted Wednesday's event has a high school graduation rate of between 50 and 60 percent, something the Boys & Girls Club is trying to raise considerably.
Days like Wednesday will make that task easier, Sanchez said.
"Every kid here will have the same chance as the same kid in any other community," Sanchez said. "Every kid here can do their homework like every other kid in the country, because the technology is the same. They have a place here, because of LeBron."
HP's association with James goes back many years, and the company did not hesitate when this opportunity came along.
"We don't do celebrity sponsorships," said Satjiv Chahil, HP's Strategic Advisor for Global Market Development. "We celebrate achievers from society who have multifaceted lives, who have an appreciation for technology and who have a human cause. ... We celebrate LeBron."
The first thing James and Brinson did when they arrived at the Miami club Wednesday was check out the furniture -- a passion project for them both.
Brinson has a long-standing interest in interior design. So that, combined with James' idea to explore a line and seeing how the couple's two sons, LeBron Jr. and Bryce, tend to test the durability of children's furniture in their home, added another element to what the MVP's foundation is trying to do with initiatives nationwide.
"I just like seeing the smiles on the kids' faces," Brinson said. "And anyone who's benefiting from him coming to talk to them, or just seeing him, it might not be something that they'll be able to do every day ... this is probably the first and last time that something like this can happen and they'll remember it for a long, long time."
James took an overwhelming amount of criticism for "The Decision" -- both what he said, and how he said it.
Moments like Wednesday, and the reminder that plenty of good came out of that night, make it easier for him to put aside how naysayers reacted.
"I would do it again," James said. "I won't play this game forever. But the things that we're doing in the communities, things that we're doing in the gymnasiums, in the computer labs, they will last. When I'm done playing basketball, I can still go back to some of those same parks and see what we were able to accomplish that day in 2011. That's important to me."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press