If you ever need an example of the positive impact that good coaching can have on a young man’s development, just point to LeBron James.
Born to a young single mother with few employment prospects, and the beneficiary of no male leadership, he missed school close to 100 times in fourth grade.
We’ve seen this movie before, haven’t we?
But he was lucky enough to end up with some excellent coaches as role models and father figures in his life. Men who taught him not just how to dribble and shoot — like he needed much help with that — but the fine points of the game. How to fit into the flow of an offense, and make good passes, and be a complete team player. And most important, how to behave in the real world, away from the basketball court.
His first coach, Frankie Walker Sr., saw that LeBron’s mother Gloria was having trouble keeping it together, with all the missed days of school. At Frankie’s invitation, LeBron moved in with Frankie and family before the start of fifth grade. That very first year, he won the perfect attendance award at school. “Best award ever”, James says.
The Walkers provided his first secure family setting, and LeBron thrived with the increased responsibilities and demands, including daily chores and doing all his homework. It was the beginning of an entirely new life for him.
He and his friends moved on to play AAU basketball, where they eventually won more than 200 games, and the national 13-and-under championship. AAU coaches are sometimes known for using players to feather their own nests, but LeBron’s AAU (and later, high school) coach, Dru Joyce II, is not cut from that kind of cloth. When asked about whether he’s had to discipline LeBron, Joyce said:
Oh yeah. It comes with the territory. He’s no better than anyone else. […] But you know, it’s just like any other coach and player relationship, there’s always going to be those rocky moments where you have to draw the line and make sure that everyone understands who’s in control and those things are done and LeBron has to toe the line like everybody else.
An admirable degree of integrity at any level of coaching; in the AAU coaching world, especially so.
After conquering the AAU 13-and-under world, LeBron and all his AAU buddies stuck together, moving on as a group to a Catholic high school, St. Vincent – St. Mary, coached by Keith Dambrot.
They won state titles in each of his first two years. After LeBron’s sophomore season, Dambrot moved up to an assistant coaching position at the University of Akron, and Dru Joyce became the head coach. Another title followed in his senior season.
LeBron has a nice bond with Coach Dambrot and the University of Akron:
“It’s simple with me,” James said. “I have a relationship with Coach Dambrot. He gave me my first opportunity to play high school basketball. The relationship continues to grow even after he left. This is my way of giving back to Coach Dambrot for everything he has done for me. “He gave my friends an opportunity to play college basketball, and I’m giving back to [Akron].”
Some NBA players may want to take note: this is what adult thinking and speaking looks like.
I’ve been a LeBron fan from day one, but knew nothing of this back story until a couple of weeks ago, when my youngest boy — named Jordan, coincidentally — brought home a book from school about LeBron that talked about his experiences with the Walker family, and what a life-changing event that was.
We all know that LeBron James is uniquely talented to play basketball. What we also know, now, is that he is both uniquely prepared to handle the fame that comes from it and blessed with some good guidance by his coaches along the way.