Shaquille ONeal. Lew Alcindor. George Gervin.
This is the company LeBron James Equality sneakers will be among when it is enshrined in The Smithsonians National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) later this Fall. But, before the general public was able to see them on display, these three entities partnered together to allow 59 kids from six cities across America to be the first to witness this historic moment in the nation’s capital.
In a video message pre-recorded for the kids in attendance, LeBron reflected on the historic significance of his sneakers being in the museum, noting they will live forever, long after my life, and my kids’ life. He wants his sneakers to convey a deeper message of equality to the impressionable youth.
I want you guys to use this shoe as inspiration; as a voice. The words equality speaks volumes. It speaks volumes for all of us. No matter your skin color. No matter your race. No matter if you are male or female. We are in the land of the free, and we all should feel like we are equal.”
He is a living museum artifact pic.twitter.com/nN7D1eM807
Keith Nelson Jr (@JusAire) July 31, 2018
LeBrons Equality sneakers will be on display in the NMAAHC Sports Gallery next to Gervins signed, game-worn Nike Air sneakers, and Shaqs Shaq Attack Reebok sneakers. Itll be in the basketball case where we talk about cultural expression. Whats really important is these shoes arent just designed to be aesthetically appealing, but theyre designed to carry a social message, NMAAHC Sports Gallery curator Damion Thomas told The Shadow League.
He debuted the sneakers opening night of the 2017-2018 NBA season, and wore them again in the nations capital later that year in during a road game against the Washington Wizards.
The LeBron 15 Equality sneakers were helping push the museum’s culture forward months before they were encased in glass. In February, Nike and LeBron, two of the museum’s earliest donors, did an online drawing for 400 pairs of his Equality sneakers, with a $10 donation for each entry into the drawing. The drawing accumulated $400,000 in donations for the NMAAHC. That is in addition to the $2.5 million LeBron donated to the museum in November 2016, two months after the NMAAHC opened.
It was his idea [to donate the sneakers], Vanessa Garcia-Brito, Nike’s Senior Director of Communications and Partnerships for Global Community Impact, told The Shadow League. He said, I would love to get these shoes into history. It was almost less about, necessarily, being featured, but it was more about how do you share that message for generations to come, for today, and for posterity.
The activity from the online drawing helped Nike determine “the cities that had some of the highest participation in the auction,” according to Garcia-Brito. Nike then partnered with youth organizations PeacePlayers (Detroit, Baltimore, and NY), Urban Initiatives (Chicago), Boys & Girls Club (metro LA), and First Tee (Atlanta) to give 59 kids a two day educational trip around Washington, D.C. Before they heard LeBron’s sage words about social change, these weren’t kids simply happy to be in Washington, D.C., for the first time. These were burgeoning free thinkers brimming with desire to change the world they live in.
“They were up on Capitol Hill. That’s my proudest moment because they each went and spent some time at their representative’s office,” Garcia-Brito said. “I got to follow the Detroit team. They had questions about how to address violence in their communities, better education. They were asking for teachers who really want to teach them, but also make it a place where kids really want to go. They asked about access to the internet, the water in Flint.”
LeBron may be King James, but out of all sports athletes, Michael Jordan has donated the most money to the NMAAHC, with a $5 million donation more than a month before the museum opened. Thanks to that, his Airness has an entire hall named after him dedicated to athletes like Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali, and Jim Brown whose transcendent contributions to sports and society helped change both. The Michael Jordan Hall is directly next to the area where LeBron James sneakers will be. So, ironically, in order for LeBron’s sneakers to be viewed, they have to go through MJ.
Regardless of his physical, or proverbial proximity to Michael Jordans legacy, LeBron is one of few athletes thats still active in their sport and to be featured in the NMAAHC. That’s rare company which includes Serena, Venus Williams, and Tiger Woods. A game-worn Cleveland Cavaliers jersey and LeBron’s Sports Illustrated cover from his high school days are also showcased in the museum.
Whether opening his I Promise school that will fund every graduates college education, or shifting the NBA landscape with his move to LA, LeBron James is now a living legend, and nothing can kill that.