NBA superstar LeBron James has proved he’s a role model both on and off the basketball court by opening a school for underprivileged children.The I Promise School will house 240 at-risk third and fourth-grade students in James’ hometown Akron, Ohio.The school is a joint venture between the LeBron James Family Foundation and Akron Public Schools.”We just want everything for them,” the three-time NBA champion said. “Everything and more. So it’s going to mean a lot to me.”James will serve as primary donor to help form the extra-curricular goals of the school. The school’s board will oversee the curriculum development.The 33-year-old, who recently moved from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Los Angeles Lakers on a four-year contract worth $154m (£116m), hopes the school will help kids who are falling behind in education and struggling at home. The former Cavs star missed 83 days of school in the fourth grade because his family did not have a car.Several other families offered care and support, and the following year he started playing basketball.”School didn’t mean anything to me,” he said. “There were just a lot of empty days, empty nights and just kind of a no-future thought process.”It was mentally challenging. No kid at eight, nine should have that stress… so I know exactly what a lot of these kids are going through.”James says having a bike was a huge factor in his childhood as it offered him an escape from dangerous parts of his neighbourhood and the freedom to explore. Because of that, every student will receive a bicycle when they arrive at the school. Students will also be provided with meals during the day, as well as services to help them deal with stress, or parents who are struggling to make ends meet.The school will also provide services to families, which include job placement assistance for parents and an on-site food bank from which parents can take food to prepare at home.”We want to create an environment of family where you want to always be around your family,” said James. “No matter the good and the bad, you always want to be around that support system.”By using my voice and letting the youth know and the people that need the guidance know that I care for them and I’m going to be their voice, it’s passionate for me, because like I said, sports is just the ultimate to bring people together, so that’s what I’m here for.”In 2015, James announced an initiative that would pay for more than 1,000 kids to attend college. He has also funded the ‘Wheels for Education’ programme, which started in 2011 and provides kids with school supplies, access to computers, and a bike as part of a system designed to keep kids motivated to complete their homework and get good grades.
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by Jim LitkeAP Sports Columnist LONDON (AP)—The question was whether the U.S. Olympic basketball team could be beaten.“Sometimes a team wants to show that this is their tournament,” French coach Vincent Collet said Sunday, after getting blown out 98-71 in Sunday’s opener. “They did it today.”Those were the last two sentences of his answer. The first was how he hoped to have a chance to try again. The dozen or so in between were how Collet had hoped to accomplish it the first time around. All of them can be summarized by something heavyweight-turned-thespian Iron Mike Tyson once famously said:“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”In Collet’s case, his plan was to limit turnovers on one end by having his players protect the ball and second-chance points on the other by controlling the defensive boards. The French succeeded at neither, largely because their opponents played without much in the way of opening-night jitters and with way more defensive intensity than some of the packed-with-NBA-superstar squads that USA Basketball sent to the games in the past.That said, it’s not as if the French didn’t know what to expect. They boast a half-dozen NBA players of their own, the second-largest contingent in London, and were the darlings of the U.S.-can-be-beaten crowd. But after hanging tough early—France trailed by a point at the end of the first quarter—the opportunistic U.S. defense and their own frigid shooting from beyond the 3-point arc (2 of 22) doomed any hopes of an upset.Afterward, the same question put to Collet was put to a few of his players.Tony Parker pronounced the U.S. team would be “very, very tough to beat,” and none of his teammates objected very loudly. Boris Diaw, who claimed a starting spot alongside Parker in San Antonio for the stretch run of the NBA season, said: “Definitely not by shooting 10 percent from 3-point range. And we turned it over (18 times) way too much.”The most optimistic assessment, ultimately, came from the young and freshly minted Portland Trail Blazer millionaire Nicolas Batum.“You have to play a 40-minute game, really” he began. “Play a 40-minute game, continue to rebound. Take care of the ball and play good defense.“Some teams can do it, you know? I think some teams can beat them,” Batum added, trying to pump himself up. “Really.”Besides his own team, Batum nominated Spain, Argentina and Brazil. That’s no coincidence, since all three gave the U.S. side some trouble on the road to London. After one period Brazil was ahead by 10 and Spain by 1; Argentina cut a 20-point deficit to four. All three eventually got punched in the face.Those moments of vulnerability are why few people—other than Kobe Bryant—have been willing to compare this bunch to the original Dream Team. Well, that, and the fact that the first edition featured a then-and-still-without-peer Michael Jordan in his absolute prime, a still capable Magic Johnson and a much, much deeper and more reliable bench.When Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are all in sync and on the floor together, the comparison doesn’t seem unreasonable. But put together a different combination—say Bryant with Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook, none of whom would ever be mistaken for a “pass-first” player—and one ball is never going to be enough.So it might not take a perfect storm to sink the U.S. gold medal cruise. Maybe they get into foul trouble early, or fall in love with the three-point shot on a night they’re not falling. Maybe they run into a team with a point guard who doesn’t turn the ball over and deftly finds his big guys underneath, where the U.S. team has no true center other than Tyson Chandler.Sounds a lot like Spain, when Jose Calderon is handling the ball smartly and feeding big men Pau and Marc Gasol on a regular basis. Of course, that composite team sounds a little like France, too, if you substitute Parker for Calderon and Ronny Turiaf for the Gasol brothers. But Turiaf himself doesn’t buy the argument the U.S. team is short on big men, or that it can’t beat any rival playing small ball.“They are so versatile that, for me, it’s a false debate,” he said. “If you can foul out Tyson, so what? In comes Carmelo or LeBron. And really, who’s going to take advantage of them?”“It’s a case of…of …” Turiaf paused, looking for a phrase. He didn’t look pleased, either.“A case of ‘pick your poison?’” someone offered.“Exactly,” he said, nodding gravely. “Pick your poison.”(Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at [email protected] and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.)