AKRON, Ohio – LeBron James sat in a gym inside a community center he and his friends were afraid to visit as kids, reflecting on his past and looking to the future.
With his hands folded tightly, James listened as a boy sang "His Eye Is On The Sparrow," the child's beautiful voice filling a place James has transformed with a generous gift.
"I remember coming through the front doors here," James said afterward In a sit-down interview with The Associated Press. "It was an intimidating place, real dark."
James has brought it new light.
On Tuesday, the NBA superstar cut the ribbon to officially open The LeBron James Clubhouse at an Akron Boys & Girls Club, a safe haven for area children that he paid to renovate with $240,000 donated through his family foundation. Back home in Ohio and surrounded by family and friends, the Miami Heat forward felt humbled while giving back to his community.
"It's unbelievable," he said. "As a kid, this is one of the places we didn't want to go. But to see the transformation from what this place used to be to what it is now is amazing, and the only reason we're doing it is for these kids. They are our future."
James pointed toward several rows of youngsters, who hung on his every word.
One of them, 11-year-old Jaire Bell, opened the ceremony with his gospel song, a touching performance that moved James, who later promised to keep helping Akron's youth.
"There should never be a door closed to their dreams," said James, who on Monday launched a program to provide hundreds of third graders academic tools they need. The program will follow those kids through their high school graduations.
"We have presidents in here, doctors, lawyers, possibly professional athletes," he said. "All the dreams they have, there should be a way for them to accomplish it. I dreamed a lot as a kid and the reason I could is that I had people around me who never shut the door. I had coaches, mentors, my mother and friends. We all believed in the same thing and I was able to accomplish it — with a lot of help.
"I never did it on my own, and to this day, I'm not doing it on my own."
The clubhouse dedication was the first part of what promised to be an emotional day for James, who was to be inducted into the athletic Hall of Fame of his alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. James is being honored along with teammates Sian Cotton, Dru Joyce III, Willie McGee and Romeo Travis.
That group won three state titles and a mythical national championship as seniors.
"I wear our school on my sleeve all the time, man," James said. "I never forget what that school did for us. It's going to mean a lot."
Following a tumultuous first season in Miami that began with his infamous announcement last summer to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers, James has relished his summer back in Akron. This is where he can find peace, block out all the criticism and mostly, just be himself.
In concluding his remarks to an audience comprised of school kids, parents and civic leaders, James reminded everyone he'll never stray too far.
"I will always be here," he said. "I grew up in this city. I love this city, and I'm instilled in this city. No matter where my life may take me, I will always be in Akron, Ohio. I will always give back to Akron, Ohio. Because these kids deserve it."