LeBron's bike event stresses education

LeBron James is spending part of his summer thinking about school.

The Miami Heat star is changing the scope of his annual bike-a-thon in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, scrubbing its former "King for Kids" moniker to now call the event "Wheels for Education" and building it around a two-week camp featuring reading and technology classes for 360 children about to enter third grade.

This year's bike event, a 2.6-mile ride where James will be accompanied by 20 selected high-school students, is Aug. 8.

"We're looking to continue to create awareness for these young kids," James, who founded the bike event in 2005, told The Associated Press. "Not only in this community, but in the world. Me having an influence with my voice, I'm blessed. So the No. 1 thing is creating awareness and I think this gives us an opportunity to make sure these kids not only get educated but have fun and being around people that can have a positive influence in their life."

James has said several times that ensuring children get through school is one of his biggest away-from-basketball priorities. He did not attend college, jumping directly to the NBA after finishing high school in 2003. He has already partnered with State Farm on an initiative called "26 Seconds," a nod to the statistic that, on average, one child drops out of school within that timeframe.

In a telephone interview from Akron, where he's spending part of his summer, James cited research suggesting third-grade academic achievement can be an indicator of how students will fare through the remainder of their scholastic careers. The "Wheels for Education" program will be concentrated on kids who were like James -- hailing from single-parent homes and sometimes simply needing a bit of extra help.

"What helped me in school was sports," James said. "When I was 8, 9, that was the first time I started playing organized sports and I had coaches around me that stressed education and not being allowed to play if we weren't doing our schoolwork or being at school on time, things like that."

As for the questions that kids ask -- and they do -- about why they need college if James didn't, he has a quick reply for them.

"I'm still learning," James said. "Every day. I'm learning business. I'm learning finance. I'm learning a lot of things that help me in everyday life. I'm doing a lot of reading and I'm still improving as a student, even though I am a professional athlete."

Once a child completes the two-week camp this summer, he or she will receive a laptop, school supplies and a bike, made possible by HP, Nike and the LeBron James Family Foundation, among others. Plans call for the kids to continue getting support, in partnership with the Akron Public Schools, through their high school graduations.

"I've had the pleasure of watching LeBron grow as a player, and mature as a philanthropist," Akron mayor Donald Plusquellic said in a news release. "His new commitment to the Akron After School program is an investment that will pay dividends years to come because there is no investment more important than in the children whose circumstances he knows so well. ... He continues to be a role model for our youth for his accomplishments on and off the court."

James said one of the program's goals for this year is to have the third-graders all reading at what would be at least a fourth-grade level. He's also busy with a number of other initiatives with kids this summer, mainly revolving around basketball: The LeBron James Skills Academy, which brings the nation's top 80 high school players, opened in Akron on Tuesday.

"I let them ask me whatever they want to," James said. "Everything. Using my influence, using my experience, I can help them. And it's not always about basketball."

Also on James' docket this summer: His "King's Academy" for kids age 7-17 starts in San Diego later this month, and he'll be on a Nike trip to China in August.

It sounds busy, but after last summer's whirlwind, this summer is downright breezy for James.

For one, the NBA just entered a lockout, meaning next season is officially in jeopardy. A deal between owners and players could not be reached before a June 30 expiration of the most recent labor deal, and the sides are billions apart in their financial proposals.

James averaged 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists for the Heat during the regular season, and had the league's hottest-selling jersey. When the NBA comes back, James said he will be rested and ready.

"If you compare this summer to last summer, it's night and day," James said. "I know I have a lot of work to do, on the court and off the court, this summer. I'm going on to another challenge, and I'm looking forward to it."