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LeBron James Pays Homage to the Mothers in His Life

The NBA superstar credits his mother and his girlfriend for making him both the athlete and the family man he is today.

LeBron's Childhood continued...

Her sacrifice was the foundation for his survival. When he was 9 years old, Gloria James realized she could not give her son what he needed most -- the grounding of a family. Along with her two brothers, she had been raised in a full house, cared for by her mother and grandparents and surrounded by an extended family of friends and neighbors. It's where she got her own values, and she wanted the same for her son. That, she came to realize, meant putting him into someone else's hands.

"It was the hardest decision I'd made in my life," says Gloria, now 42. "But it was also one of the best. At that time in his life, he needed stability. It was hard, but I knew it was not about me. It was about him. I had to put him first."

LeBron James and the Shooting Stars

And so James went to live with Frank and Pam Walker in their three-bedroom Akron home. At the time, Frank Walker ("Big Frank") was coaching the boy's peewee football team, the South Rangers. He saw potential in the newly minted fifth-grader, but more important, he saw need. This was a child who appeared older than his years, a boy missing out on the joys of childhood. "The Walkers were also concerned that I was being passed from place to place, that I was a nomad at the age of 9," James writes in Shooting Stars.

The family welcomed James into their home, where he lived for a year, seeing his mother on weekends. The discipline -- he did his first chores there -- along with the stability and the security of a settled family life: LeBron drank it all in.

"I loved being there," he writes. "I loved being part of the flow that is a family." That year he did not miss a single day of school. And that was also the year he started playing basketball.

Walker, still his football coach, asked him to join another team he was coaching, the Summit Lake Community Center Hornets. It was the first basketball team LeBron played for. He stayed with the Hornets a year, and during that time he moved back home, into a two-bedroom apartment his mother rented with help from a government assistance program. They had enough to get by, and James lived with her until he finished high school. Meanwhile, his extended family of friends and mentors kept growing. None was more important to him than Dru Joyce II.

Joyce was putting together a traveling team, the Shooting Stars, and he approached James about joining. Soon, the team included James, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee, and Joyce's son, Dru Joyce III, better known as Little Dru. Under Coach Dru's tutelage, they played together through eighth grade, going all the way to the Amateur Athletic Union nationals in Orlando, Fla. By then, James was already 6 feet 2 inches tall (he's since grown another 6 inches) and could dunk the ball. It was almost enough. They lost by two points in the final game.

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