Though Michael Jordan has been a cultural fixture since the 1980s, it took a long time from his playing days before he reached billionaire status. In 2016, His Airness finally hit the Forbes billionaire list, powered by stratospheric earnings from corporate partners like Nike, Hanes and Gatorade. Then there’s LeBron James, 37, who recently wrapped up a tough year with the Los Angeles Lakers, failing to clinch a playoff berth. On the plus side, LeBron was named a billionaire just a week ago. King James indeed.
LeBron is the first active NBA player to make the coveted Forbes list, with a net worth of $1 billion. The 18-time all-star earned $121.2 million before taxes and agents’ fees over the last 12 months alone, per Forbes. “Obviously. I want to maximize my business. And if I happen to get it, if I happen to be a billion-dollar athlete, ho. Hip hip hooray! Oh, my God, I’m gonna be excited,” LeBron told GQ in a 2014 interview.
For a while now, I’ve been keeping an eye on LeBron James and his giving. Off the court, LeBron has led the way as one of the leading athletes in his generation speaking up about social issues. And his LeBron James Family Foundation (LJFF) invests time, resources and attention in the kids of LeBron’s hometown of Akron, Ohio.
LJFF’s latest project is I Promise HealthQuarters – a multimillion-dollar facility that will offer a variety of services to students from LeBron’s I Promise School, which is located close-by, as well as the local community. “It takes a village to help raise a kid and make a true difference! Love my kids and their families!” LeBron tweeted when the announcement went out.
Well, LeBron’s family foundation already puts a strong focus on education in his native Ohio. LJFF’s flagship I PROMISE program serves more than 1,400 Akron-area students, providing them with programming, support and mentoring to help them succeed in school and beyond. LJFF also established the I PROMISE Institute at the University of Akron, aimed at helping students and their families transition to college life.
Education has been a common theme in our coverage of athlete philanthropy, particularly the giving of NBA players. Many NBA players hail from underprivileged backgrounds and credit the value of hard work and education for their rise.
“I think that’s probably the lane I’m excited about most that these players chose to influence,” former NBA player turned celebrated ESPN/ABC analyst Jalen Rose once told me. “There used to be some sort of jock undercurrent. If you weren’t the best student, or you didn’t necessarily graduate from college, your influence here wasn’t necessarily important. But I’m glad that that glass ceiling is shattering. And not just in the NBA, but the sports world as a whole.”
Michael Jordan’s flurry of giving in the last few years started in the realm of criminal justice. But MJ has also been expanding his giving, moving into the realm of health philanthropy with $7 million to fund two Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Clinics in Charlotte. In 2021, meanwhile, he gave $10 million to open two additional family health clinics on the southeastern coast of North Carolina. And like Jordan, LeBron’s giving also seems to be expanding.
So far, LeBron’s giving has heavily prioritized his I Promise School, so it makes sense that as he moves into funding health-related programming, it would be through the framework of I Promise — the name of which refers to mutual promises LeBron, students and parents make to each other.
Set to open in 2023, I Promise HealthQuarters will provide medical, dental, optometry and mental heath supports as well as an on-site pharmacy and lab services. The community health and wellness center will be within walking distance of I Promise School and across from House Three Thirty, a multi-use facility funded by LJFF that also offers resources to I PROMISE families. I Promise HealthQuarters will partner with health providers AxessPointe, Coleman Health Services and Peg’s Foundation, whose mission is to improve the lives of people with serious mental illness by investing in innovative projects in northeast Ohio.
It’s worth noting that current and retired NBA players have been a lot more open about their struggles with mental health lately. LeBron’s former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Kevin Love has spoken about his own battle with anxiety and depression. In 2018, he launched the Kevin Love Fund, which focuses on mental health. Early work has included aligning with meditation app Headspace to provide student athletes at UCLA with year-long subscriptions to the app to incorporate into their training regimens.
As for LeBron, somehow he still keeps suiting up for another season. But even as his NBA career continues, LeBron the billionaire philanthropist is also someone to watch going forward.
source: Inside Philanthropy