LeBron James’ participation in Richmond-born basketball program credited for early exposure


With LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers headed to the first game of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors Thursday, it is not surprising that sports writers are pointing out the basketball star’s Bay Area connections.

On Sunday, Yahoo! Sports writer Marc Spears detailed how James’ tenure as a teenager with the elite Oakland Soldiers AAU basketball program contributed to his rise to superstar status. The program was started in Richmond in 1990 as a way to give at-risk youth a safe place to play basketball, without distraction from local gangs, and to offer them exposure to colleges.

“While James was a local basketball star in Akron, Ohio, at that time, he was largely unknown to the rest of the nation when he came to play in a tournament for the AAU Oakland Soldiers in 2000,” Spears wrote.

In a major tournament with the Soldiers in 2001,  “LeBron put on a show” and the world started to really notice him, Spears wrote.

The Soldiers program is best known for James’ participation but has boasted other star alumni such as Chauncey Billups, Brandon Jennings, Kendrick Perkins and Jabari Brown.

The program had humble beginnings. When first launched by El Cerrito graduates Calvin Andrews and Hashim Alauddeen in 1990, 12 student-athletes were ” scraped together from Richmond rec centers and playgrounds,” as was funding, to send to tournaments in other cities, according to this SF Weekly article.

At 8 p.m. tonight on BlogTalkRadio.com, community advocate Rodney Alamo Brown is set to interview Chris Dennis, a former Richmond resident who discovered James for the Soldiers while living in Akron. The number to call into the Alamo Speaks Live Broadcast is (657) 383-1531.