General Mills is putting LeBron James on the cover of its Wheaties cereal box, a move that not only celebrates his status as an all-time great basketball player, but his commitment to social change.
The Golden Valley-based food company announced James as its next Wheaties athlete on Wednesday, the morning after he led the Los Angeles Lakers to its third win in the NBA Finals, putting the team one game away from the championship.
James, an outspoken advocate for Black lives and social change, has at times faced criticism for comments made on a range of issues, from athletes kneeling during the national anthem to police violence against Black Americans and the Hong Kong protests.
But General Mills isn’t shying away from those controversies. Instead, his position as a cultural icon is highlighted in its selection of James.
“We all know LeBron James for his record-breaking basketball career, but his achievements off the court truly set him apart,” Taylor Gessell, Wheaties brand manager, said in a statement. “From starting the LeBron James Family Foundation, to boldly speaking out on racial injustice, to launching the I Promise School — LeBron is a champion of change who is using his sports platform to better the world. We couldn’t be prouder to feature such a positive force of inspiration for the next generation of champions on Wheaties’ historic box.”
The Wheaties box has served as a pedestal for U.S. athletic greatness for 85 years, featuring athletes such as Lou Gehrig, Jesse Owens and Mary Lou Retton.
James takes over the Wheaties cover from Serena Williams, who has adorned it for more than a year.
Unlike previous Wheaties boxes that tend to glorify athletic prowess alone, the cereal brand is elevating James’ foundation work by featuring wraparound images of the students and teachers in Akron, Ohio — where James grew up — who are a part of his I Promise School.
In 2018, the LeBron James Family Foundation partnered with the Akron Public School District to launch the I Promise School aimed at addressing the barriers to academic success faced by the city’s most at-risk students.
The school uses a model that provides resources to the students’ entire families, including job support, legal aid, health care, GED classes, financial literacy programs and an onsite food pantry. The foundation also offers free tuition to the University of Akron or Kent State University for all eligible I Promise graduates.
“Growing up where we come from, to see my I Promise kids and families from Akron, Ohio, represented on the iconic Wheaties box means everything,” James said in a release. “The movement we’ve started in Akron is about doing our part to uplift our community by first listening and then responding with the resources they need. We will continue to do everything we can to create a better future for our kids and our community, and it starts with the students, teachers, and everyday champions you see on this box.”