"It was a way of life," the NBA star, who grew up on welfare, adds. "If you had a bike, it was a way to kind of let go and be free."
And so when James announced the opening of his new public school for at-risk children in Akron, he pledged to give a bike and a helmet to each of the 240 incoming students, all third- and fourth-graders.
The bikes may even help his students in the classroom: As studies show, biking is good for your cognitive health and can sharpen reasoning, memory and a person's ability to think quickly.
"Everything I do comes from my childhood, from my growing up, and what I feel was part of my success," James tells Gay about his decision to provide bikes to so many young people.
The idea behind the I Promise School comes from his own childhood experience, too. When James was in fourth grade, he and his mom moved about half a dozen times, causing him to miss a lot of school: 83 days to be exact, he writes on Twitter:
Besides bikes, students at James' school will receive free breakfast, lunch and snacks and access to a fitness trainer. Perhaps the biggest perk of all, those who graduate will earn free tuition at the University of Akron starting in 2021.
James, now 33, has won three NBA championships and three MVP titles over his successful NBA career, but he still makes time for biking: When he played for the Miami Heat, he was spotted commuting to games on his oversized mountain bike. He's also hosted bike-a-thons in Akron.
The basketball sensation will be playing for the Lakers this upcoming season and plans to bring his bike with him to Los Angeles. "I've seen a few bike paths around Los Angeles," James tells Gay. "I know Santa Monica has a great bike path down there on the beach…I'm looking forward to that."
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LeBron James has opened a public elementary school, and grads can attend college for free