I was hired a week before the announcement. Being from the area, I can tell you we don’t often have global icons in our backyard. It’s not an exaggeration to say that LeBron’s coming here shifted the cultural paradigm within our community. With the monies from The Decision, the Greenwich Club renovated its gym, and [BGCNH] was able to create a much-needed computer center with new laptops and desktops.

Things that can seem basic for most are life-changing for those in need, especially children and families from underserved neighborhoods who need a safe place to be after school, healthy snacks, a gym for play and a quiet room to read, write and study.

LeBron James knows better than most that basketball extends in ways well beyond the court. It enabled me to get a college degree [at Florida State—Ed.], make a living playing in the NBA [with the 76ers and  Clippers—Ed.] and nine years professionally in Europe, Asia and South America. Building upon those experiences has provided me a platform to reach young people through sports and education. When our AAU team practices or travels to games, we spend hours talking about books, ideas and building trust with others and in ourselves. Ninety percent of our students are now getting As and Bs back at their schools.

When I was in the League, we had players who were community-driven—George  McCloud is one name that comes to mind—but LeBron’s level of recognition and societal significance is massive. James is doing some amazing things in the sport. He is the best player in the League, and to win Championships and achieve all that he has is awesome and hard to do. But what he accomplished here, culturally for our kids in New Haven, is even harder to do and really an important part of his growing legacy.

as told to Dr. L.A. Gabay