In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Honoring his roots, Lebron James inspires pride in all of us

“I’m LeBron James from Akron, Ohio, from the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here. That’s enough.”

I hope every kid in this country heard those words.

They were spoken in the euphoria of a stunning win, when James could’ve easily talked basketball, but instead chose to honor the community he came from, words of gratitude for the road traveled that make him the beloved champion he is in Miami today.

“Every night I walk into the locker room, I see a No. 6 with James on the back, I’m blessed.”

I hope everyone in this country heard the clanking of pots and pans from Hialeah to Homestead, the cheers accented in Spanish, Creole, Portuguese, and the “Woooh! Wooooh!” of victory horns echoing like a runaway train.

The Heat did it again, made us collectively proud to be Miamians. And the imperfect but inspiring story of “King James” makes the celebration all the sweeter.

When James said, “I’m not even supposed to be here,” this is what he was talking about: Black youth in the U.S. have far lower graduation and literacy rates than their white, Hispanic and Asian counterparts. The bleak start places them at a great disadvantage as men, under- or unemployed at higher rates, imprisoned in disproportionate numbers.

James had such a start, born to a 16-year-old mother who struggled to raise him alone. But he and his mother made tough, controversial choices that paved the way to this moment, when one of the sport’s greatest jump shooters led the Heat to a second NBA championship in a row, earning another Most Valuable Player title.

Early on, James went to live with the family of a football coach who became a mentor and turned him on to basketball. He opted to attend a private white school instead of the public inner-city school where he was expected to go. His prowess on the court brought him fame right away and he didn’t handle it well, almost blowing the future on a puff of smoke and a Hummer ride.

No choice earned him more enemies than the move from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the “Dream Team” in Miami.

James embraced this city as if it were his hometown, and endured plenty of ugliness from people who wanted to keep him in what they thought was his place.

That’s why the second question he was asked in his moment of glory was about the people who hate him.

“I ain’t got no worries,” he said. Why should he?

His success is a result of his work ethic. In two years, his coach said, James has taken off only two weeks, keeping a grueling schedule to stay in shape, even off-season. He’s talented, but a lot of people with talent get nowhere because they’re unwilling to commit, to focus and to leave behind the naysayers.

“What everyone says about me off court doesn’t matter,” James said.

What matters is character, and James has shown he has it, giving back to his adopted city without forgetting where he came from. He has won the hearts of this complex and sometimes divided community, and inspires its young people.

You see it in the face of the immigrant kids in Hialeah who proudly wear the No. 6 jersey of a kid from Akron’s inner city.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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