Justice Is Served

April 22, 2010 12:09 AM

Boyhood Coach Enjoys Role in Shaping LeBron


Rob Deck has asked nothing of the boy who is now a megastar. He has not tried to horn in on some of the perks of being a friend of the megastar. He has kept his distance, unashamed, however, to admit he's one of the megastar's most vocal fans.

"I try not to latch on to these guys," Deck said the other day. "I don't want their fame, I don't want their glory."

Watch Deck in the stands at a Cavaliers game, and all you notice is his broad smile as he looks down onto floor and cheers for the muscular megastar he has known since the mid-1990s.

Deck's face is flush with pride, because one of his boys, one of the youth from his Pee Wee League football program, has become the marquee name in sports, as bankable a personality as any other athlete in the world.

But the boy's road to megastar took an uncharted course, although the man who played a role in shaping LeBron James' formative years knew from the start that he wasn't coaching the typical boy.

"I always told his mother Gloria, 'This kid's special; this kid's gonna be something,' " Deck said. "He had this determination, no matter what, he was going to try to be the best."

And he succeeded, beyond anything imaginable. He cashed in a dream that thousands of boys from Akron to Anaheim had as they slept at night. They all picture themselves in the spotlight, winning a title with a 30-footer at the buzzer. They see the wealth, the TV commercials and the adulation, and they seem to want it - all of it.

But wealth and fame are the rewards of a hard, unyielding journey, and it can start from the most meager of beginnings, as LeBron's did. For in his boyhood in Akron, nobody called him "Chosen One" or "King James"; those are nicknames he'd earn during his maturation.

It was one step after another to get there, and Deck has enjoyed watching the  odyssey. He has lived it vicariously, keeping in touch with his former player without getting into his business.

None of what Deck witnesses has been a surprise. For in coaching hundreds of youth in his life, he is able to see things that separate the ordinary from the great. Maybe it's something in their speed or size or quickness; maybe it's the way they can dissect action as if able to predict the future; or maybe - just maybe -- it's an otherworldly intangible that defies an explanation.

Yet a man who coaches athletes can see it, even if he can't explain it. And Deck saw it in LeBron James. Even as a boy, he was a leader, Deck said. Other boys followed LeBron, and he relished taking them to glory. He seemed to know a bit more about the game than any of his peers.

"I really didn't have to coach LeBron," Deck said. "He was a general out there. He always was a coach's player. 

He saw a boy who had an aura about him - a spark or a boundless drive and a determination - that he hadn't seen in a boy. Inside LeBron was a toughness that he would carry into manhood.

Its roots took hold under Deck, who told a story about LeBron James from a Pee Wee league game in 1995 to prove it. 

On a tackle, LeBron got his left ankle twisted. Seeing his quarterback limping and in pain, Deck motioned him to the sideline. 

"I seen the disappointment in his eyes like, 'Man, I really wanna get back out there,' " he said. "I said, 'Kid, if you're hurt, you ain't going back into the ballgame.' "He said, 'Coach, I'm OK.' " 

Hearing the exchange, one of Deck's assistant coaches said to let LeBron decide. If he felt he could continue, then let him, the assistant told Deck. 

The coach relented. 

He had a trainer tape the ankle and sent LeBron back to finish the game. 

"Just that willpower," Deck said. "LeBron didn't wanna let his teammates down. He always was a team player -- in football just like he is in basketball." 

The memory isn't far from Deck's mind. Each time he sits and watches LeBron James he wells with satisfaction and pride. One of his boys has made good, and that's what any coach should take pride in. 

It's not the money or the title or the fame; it's the satisfaction of playing a role in a man's success that brings the smile to the face of coaches like Rob Deck.    

So Deck sits in the stands this night, away from the courtside seats that his connection to a megastar might entitle him to. He sits far above the fray and enjoys watching what his mentoring has wrought. 

He cheers from afar -- and he smiles. 



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