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AMERICAN ATHLETE OF THE WEEK: LeBron James, Giving Back (8/24/12)

It's been a good year for LeBron James. First, he won his third regular season NBA MVP award. In the postseason, the player who had been criticized for not being able to win the "big game" tacked on his first NBA championship and Finals MVP award.

As if those achievements weren't enough, he won a second gold medal at the Summer Olympics in London. And James wasn't just a contributor, he was clearly the U.S. team's best all-around player. If the Olympics had an MVP award for men's basketball, James probably would have won it, too. The only other player in NBA history to match James' achievements in 2012 was Michael Jordan, who won the same four accolades in 1992.

While James' accomplishments on the court were certainly incredible, he's also been an overachiever off the court this year. When the Akron native announced that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers in July 2010 to play with the Miami Heat, most people felt that he had betrayed his hometown and its fans. In reality, it turns out that James never abandoned the city. He's continued to give back to Akron since he left through the LeBron James Family Foundation.

A year ago, the LeBron James Clubhouse opened at the Akron Boys & Girls Club, where he played as a child. The club was renovated with a $240,000 donation from the foundation. The same month, James' foundation launched its "Wheels For Education" initiative to provided over 300 inner-city kids with school supplies and mentors until they graduate high school. The program hopes to reduce the school district's abysmal 24% dropout rate. The third-graders each received a laptop, a backpack, school supplies and a bike. This year, the program continued with an additional 220 students.

"I was one of these kids," James said. "It means everything to me to be able to give back. I have a passion for it. I love seeing kids smile, and for them to have someone who can lead them. For me to be in this position and being able to help and give back means a lot."

An athlete's civic contributions usually don't receive much attention, but James finally received the recognition he deserved last week. During the middle of the eighth inning of a minor league baseball game at Canal Park in Akron, Ohio, he was joined by his mother and fiancé on the field. Most people would probably think that a Cleveland suburb would be the last place on Earth to recognize James for anything, but James was cheered by the 3,800 fans in attendance.

Hundreds of children in the "Wheels For Education" program were in stands. He led the students in making a pledge: "I promise to go to school, to do my homework, to listen to my teachers and ... above all, to finish school, to finish school, to finish school." So far, the initiative has been considered a success. Every third grader in James' "Wheels For Education" program was promoted to fourth grade.

Akron mayor Don Plusquellic heaped praise on James. “For my money, he’s the greatest Akronite because he cares about Akron," Plusquellic said. "He knows not every child can be an MVP in the NBA, but every child can do well in school. He not only gives money to help make that happen, he gives his time."

The mayor also announced that signs proclaiming Akron as the home of LeBron James, along with listing some of his greatest achievements, will be erected along the nine major roadways leading into the city.

In 2012, LeBron James accomplished everything an athlete could hope to achieve on the court. The success has made him a role model to millions of kids around the world. Despite all the accolades, James' most valuable accomplishments are those that he's making through his work off the court.

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