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As coincidental as any encounter can be, James Donald first met LeBron James while serving as his sixth, seventh and eighth grade gym teacher at Riedinger Middle School in Akron, Ohio. As the school’s annual student-faculty basketball game approached during James’s eighth grade year, little did Donald know that he would be a witness to a special moment in history as LeBron James would go on to execute his first-ever dunk. With an almost prescient initiative, Donald kept the rim to serve as a memento of the event. In Nike Presents: “First Dunk,” Donald briefly discusses his observations of a young LeBron James and of the student-faculty athletic game that would eventually lead to James’s impressive first-ever dunk.
James Donald was a physical education teacher in the Akron public school system for 28 years, primarily at Riedinger Middle School where he became LeBron’s gym teacher for James’ sixth, seventh and eighth grade years. Mr. Donald witnessed history late in LeBron’s eighth grade year when, during the annual student-faculty basketball game, LBJ executed his first-ever dunk. Mr. Donald kept the rim, featured opposite, as a memento of the event.
“We have a student-faculty game at the end of every year. We use it as a fundraiser, and everybody pays a buck to get in. It’s right during the day—not after school—so everybody comes and the gym is packed.
That year the eighth grade team was unbeaten. So we played ‘We are the champions’ by Queen before the game. We were pumping it up and the kids were going crazy. Then we introduced the starting lineups. We introduced the teachers and we came out. And at that point the teachers we were undefeated. If I was there for 20 years, we were 19-1, that was the only game the teachers ever got beat. Some of the games were tough and some of the games were so easy that we let up so we wouldn’t win by thirty. But those guys were so good. They ran us to death. We were two steps behind them, if not more and they were probably up by twenty at the half.
He got a steal probably just on the other side of half court, took it all the way on the right hand side and, just took it home. It wasn’t one of his signature dunks but for an eighth-grader he was just long and lanky and went up and dunked it. The kids just went crazy. First dunk in a game.
I saw LeBron play basketball day after day after day, because he’d eat lunch and then come to the gym for lunch recess. But I never saw him even attempt to dunk before that. I don’t know if it was because the hype of the game, but I can’t say that he was saving it up because how would he know he’d get the chance? You can’t plan that ahead of time in a game like that.
It was like it was meant to be. He had the perfect steal. Got the break away. I was probably about 20 feet behind him, thinking there’s no way I’m going to catch him or even run after him. Then the last three steps he just elevated and took it home. It was a total surprise. And he could already get over the rim. He was probably over the rim ten inches. I think the game came to a stop for just a second and he jogged back to the other end of the court. That was the exclamation point, like, ‘Hey, we beat you guys.’”