By Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree
In a small upstairs room at the East Los Angeles Boys and Girls Club, about 30 people are gathered to meet two titans in their respective industries. The room consists of a few media members, friends and fam, PR peeps and security. Even though everyone here knows who we’re waiting on, there is still shock and awe when Jay-Z and LeBron James walk into the room with smiles and salutations.
Jay-Z immediately walks over and hugs Gloria James, LeBron’s mother. Mr. Cartoon gets some love as well before Jay and Bron begin their media briefing. They are here for a very special day at the Boys and Girls Club, representing the Sprite Spark Parks project—a five year commitment and $2-million investment to build and restore basketball courts, parks and playgrounds across the country. The first court to get a makeover was the archaic hardwood at this historic B&G club. The court had been there since the early 50s and was in horrific shape. Despite the bad state of the court, kids balled on that thing daily as if it were a pristine NBA 94-feet. Now teens throughout the country can nominate basketball courts to be renovated and then recruit friends to vote for their favorite court through Facebook.com/Sprite. And in April, to help neighborhood parks, people can collect special tabs off Sprite and Sprite Zero cans and mail them in to participating radio stations. For each tab received, Sprite will make a donation (minimum donation of $250,000) to Habitat for Humanity, which will then refurbish outdoor spaces around the homes it builds with the donation.
In mid-summer, moms and their friends can donate their My Coke Rewards codes to local schools to enter a sweepstakes to win a brand new school playground or athletic field. Twenty-five schools around the country will win.
It’s an incredibly generous gesture from The Coca-Cola Company and we were honored to be there for the historic day—SLAM and NBA.com were the only basketball media invited to attend. Jay was in shades, leather coat, Levis and some Cement J’s. LeBron also wore shades but was dressed down in a grey sweatsuit and some grey/white Nike Dunk lows. They did their television media interviews together, discussing the importance of motivating youth to achieve. “We’re here teaming up with Sprite to give kids an opportunity to have a dream and then make it a reality,” LeBron says. “This is the first gym that we are doing and anytime you get an opportunity to give back to kids, it’s amazing.”
Jay-Z adds: “Our responsibility is a human one,” he says. “Like the places that we come from, we are these kids. Not everyone can be LeBron James. Not everyone can be a good looking rapper (laughs). But it’s to inspire kids and let them know the possibilities. Speaking here they can see that the person that they see on TV is a real person and the real thing, comes from some of the situations and hardships that they went through and look where he’s at. So now it’s a real thing, like I can do that because someone has done it.”
Jay was asked specifically why he would partner with LeBron on philanthropic endeavors. “I’ve known him since he couldn’t dribble,” Jay jokes. “He’s just a great person. Always been a humble and caring about his community which is great.”
Following the briefing, Jay and Bron headed downstairs to unveil the gym. About 120 kids were anxiously waiting their arrival. The kids exploded when they entered and sat down on stools behind a video backdrop. The kids performed songs and danced while the program went on. Mr. Cartoon unveiled a beautiful mural he donated, covering one entire side of the gym wall. The colors went well with the new court that thousands of kids will now come to enjoy.
Sprite Director of Marketing Ellen Lucy says the Boys and Girls club has been a long time partner of the Coca-Cola company, making them a natural fit for the program’s first renovation. “We were thrilled to do it here with Jay and LeBron—what a better way to start off our program,” she says. “We kicked it off here at this great facility and now we want to hear from the fans as far as where we should go next.”
When the presentation was over, LeBron and Jay took pictures with many of the kids and spent some good time joking around with them. After a few minutes, LeBron grabbed a basketball and started nailing flat-footed 30-foot jumpers with kids hanging on him. He threw down some hard dunks, hanging on the rim for long periods of time for all the kids to enjoy. It was phenomenal to watch—LeBron is a complete natural with kids. When it came time for my one-on-one time with him, I could tell that his Publicist Keith Estabrook was going to have a difficult time getting his attention. LBJ was just having too much fun playing around with the 50 kids that surrounded him. I kept thinking about how many kids here would look back on this day many years from now as the time they shot baskets and played around with LeBron. When I finally caught his attention for a few minutes, LeBron expressed how shocked the kids of East LA were that the renovation was happening to their Boys and Girls Club. It made him feel good. He discussed the importance of basketball courts during his youth. “Man, I would try to get shots up anywhere I could find it—indoor or outdoor—we would go anywhere,” LeBron says. “For me, it was an escape from everything. The game of basketball would put me at ease.”