By now, most people already have their minds made up about LeBron James. Ever since he announced his “Decision” to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to team up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, he’s typically been cast in the role of villain. In many regards, that’s fair. He handled that situation very poorly, though most forget that the show raised two million dollars for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and he seemed almost to embrace the hatred he so often received.
His decision to rejoin the Cavs before last season helped to mend some of those bridges but, for many, it was too little too late. That was less the case, however, for those in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. While they were disappointed to see him join the Heat, they never really felt like he left. That’s mostly because he didn’t. He has remained a part of their community throughout his years in the NBA, with frequent visits to local restaurants, appearances on the sidelines at high school football games, and charitable work such as spending a million dollars to renovate the school gym where he played basketball growing up.
As Jesse Washington writes for The Undefeated, however, LeBron hopes that his most enduring legacy will be his foundation’s effort to provide a free college education to Akron’s most at-risk youth. While James’s foundation will not have to pay for the entirety of that education, given that most of the students in the program would also qualify for federal aid, the primary benefit will most likely be felt in the years leading up to college.
Students who qualify for the program, which begins accepting kids in the third grade, receive help in the district’s after-school tutoring program in the hopes of elevating their reading scores and other areas of academic need. More than that though, they receive structure and an incentive to keep working, especially when they struggle. Those lessons will likely prove just as valuable as any help they receive with their schoolwork.
Despite their efforts though, James and those working with him have quickly learned that the problem won’t be easy to solve. Their first class of kids is now in the seventh grade and, in most cases, their test scores show that they haven’t yet caught up with their peers, though many are improving. One of the main reasons is that, in most cases, a couple hours after school isn’t enough to make up the deficit these kids have already accumulated by the third grade. As Washington notes, such efforts “must be combined with changes to the curriculum, better training for teachers, and one-on-one mentoring of students’ attendance and participation.”
James knows that his program won’t be enough for every student though, and his expectations reflect that knowledge. He told Washington, “Are we going to be 100 percent successful? No . . . We’re always going to have kids drop off, but we don’t give up on them, we try to give them the chance to be successful in life and to move forward, because that’s what’s best for our entire community.”
Whatever happens with his promise of a free college education to Akron’s most at-risk kids, that focus on the community—on giving back to the city that gave so much to him—will likely be what defines his legacy the most in his hometown. The rest of the world will judge him by championships and awards, but those he seems to care about most will measure him by a different standard. That seems to suit him just fine.
Can the same be said for us, though? Most of us want to be liked and respected by those we meet, but the opinions of the people that know us best should matter most at the end of the day. While that list absolutely needs to start with God, whose opinion of your life should supersede anyone else’s, we all need a group of people around us whose opinions matter enough to help us see when we’ve made mistakes and who we can trust to speak truth, good or bad, into our lives (2 Samuel 12:1–13). We need people we who will be there for us when we are going through trials (Job 2:11–13) and with whom we can celebrate our victories (Luke 15:9). In short, we need people to do life with, and we need to learn to value their opinions above those of others who don’t truly know or care about us.
I’ve often heard it said that God’s opinion is the only one that should matter. I suppose there’s truth in that, but it doesn’t mean that we automatically discount what others say. Throughout Scripture we find examples of individuals, such as Nathan, Barnabas, and Ruth, whom God used to speak essential messages of truth into the lives of his people. To be sure, we must always check the opinions of others against those of the Lord, but let us not become so focused on listening for God’s voice that we close ourselves off to the times he speaks through other people.
So who can speak truth into your life today? Whose opinions do you value and trust enough to actually make a difference in how you live? Begin by taking their names before the Lord to make sure that they are the ones he wants to have that power in your life, and then pay attention to the times he chooses to speak through them. We were created with a need for community. Let’s start living like it.