(Friends confirm that they are models of hospitality.“You go for lunch, you stay for dinner,” I was told.) In person, Le Bron is as tall as you would expect of the guy who is arguably the best basketball player in the world, while Savannah is an elegant five feet seven, with superstar charisma.“Me and Dwyane, our biggest takeaway about Savannah and Le Bron is that they’re real,” says Gabrielle Union, the actress who is married to the Chicago Bulls’ Dwyane Wade and is friends with the James family. You think, Oh, my God, Le Bron is silly and jumps around, and you know?
If you ever get a chance to tour Akron, Ohio, with Savannah and Le Bron James, they might show you the tree-lined street Savannah grew up on with her parents, and the low-income housing where Le Bron lived with his mom. Also on the tour, Savannah’s high school, where Savannah was a cheerleader and still, in a way, is a cheerleader today.
Mary, Le Bron’s high school, where a tourist or two shows up every couple of days hoping for a peek at the gym that the four-time NBA MVP started out at, and that the Le Bron James Family Foundation renovated.
“These are people who I was extremely close to and still am now; these are the kids of neighborhood kids who we saw every day at school. The investment guru said by phone that he thinks of Le Bron as not just warmhearted and funny—James nicknamed Buffett Uncle Warren—but sharp. ”It’s James’s work in Akron’s schools that, more than anything, makes him a true local hero.
“If I’d had that much success that young, I’d have had trouble, but he’s been able to just be sensible and keep his head on straight. The Le Bron James Family Foundation started in 2004 as a fairly typical celebrity charity, hosting bike giveaways and wrangling celebrities to help draw kids in, but soon the Jameses realized they weren’t putting points on the board.
It’s a powerful experiment that bucks the charter school–heavy trend of public education, radically proposing to give more to the students who have the least—as his “uncle” has noticed.
“When you can change a kid’s life for the better, you’re accomplishing something great,” says Buffett, a well-known cheerleader for public schools.That’s who he is.” Who is Savannah, for people who don’t know her?“She’s a woman who really has that midwestern ethic,” says Union. It’s that you say what you do and you do what you say.”This past spring, Savannah announced a new program in Akron: Women of Our Future.“You have a sea of for Akron on the state report card,” laments Rob Fischer, the codirector of Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at nearby Case Western Reserve University.“So just changing the myths about what we should expect from Akron students is powerful.”After months of meetings, the foundation agreed to help the school system at the point where especially minority kids (in the majority here) begin to fall off track: third grade.“I’m 60, but I remember prom, and I remember being poor, and I remember me and a lot of other people didn’t go to prom, because we didn’t have anything to wear. Union and her husband, Dwyane Wade, with other friends and athletes, were out snorkeling in the Bahamas a few years back.