The task ahead is daunting.
The goal so lofty one could easily turn back after each step.
But the 5-foot-7 messenger is used to facing obstacles.
“I want to talk to every teenager in the state of Alaska,” Jesse LeBeau said, standing before the Mendenhall Glacier on Thursday, “To say how it all comes down to getting better versus getting bitter.”
The Ketchikan High School graduate is now a motivational speaker — and he is on a mission the size of Alaska.
“When I go out into these communities and meet all these kids, it is really fun,” LeBeau said. “But I only get to talk with them a short time. Hopefully this impacts their lives. I want to reach every teenager in the state. It is not going to be a one-year thing, we definitely want to come back every year. That is just for the state. The big picture is I want to reach a lot more than that. My goal when it is all said and done is 100 million people across the world. I want to start that goal here in Alaska because this is my roots.”
LeBeau graduated from Ketchikan in 2005.
Growing up he would travel by boat from Pennock Island, between Gravina and Revillagigedo Islands at the eastern end of the Tongass Narrows, to Ketchikan. The island is within the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and is part of the Alexander Archipelago.
“It was a boat ride every day,” LeBeau said.
He would leave his Schoenbar Middle School teammates to attend high school in Alpine, California, for freshman and sophomore years to be near his ailing grandparents.
LeBeau was 5-foot-4, 125 pounds and made the varsity roster that was filled with Division-I recruits. He returned to Kayhi his junior year.
LeBeau’s diminutive size was overlooked when he stepped onto a basketball court. The Kings won the Southeast title for the first time in over 20 years in 2004 with LeBeau at the point and then again in 2005.
Their Alaska state tournament would end both years with a game against Bartlett High School and Mario Chalmers, who now plays for the NBA’s Miami Heat.
“It was a lot of fun,” LeBeau said. “I was the same year as that guy so I always follow him. He has had the most blessed career ever.”
The Kings tied for seventh in the state both years, won the state sportsmanship award twice and LeBeau was an All-State Tournament selection and Good Sport selection each time. He also garnished the King Of The Court trophy for the three-point competition.
LeBeau attended San Diego Community College and Point Loma Nazarene University. His college days are chronicled in “Among The Giants.”
During his senior college year, teammate Michael “Airdogg” Stewart, a notorious dunk artist in commercials, took LeBeau along on a Hollywood audition.
“He was a crazy dunker,” LeBeau said. “He was doing commercials with all these NBA players and pro athletes. I did one little trick and the director’s eyes got all big. I knew I was onto something.”
They kept the commercials mum so as not to lose college eligibility.
After college LeBeau had a choice to play professionally in Hungary, be a carpet salesman in Orange County or move to Hollywood.
He instead spent the summer on a fishing boat.
“I quickly came to the realization that wasn’t for me,” LeBeau said. “I decided to go for it. Went to Hollywood, crashed on a buddies couch in the ghetto and three months later I booked my first commercial with Kobe Bryant.”
LeBeau has now worked in commercials or films with Bryant, Heidi Klum, Kevin Durant, Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups, And 1’s The Professor, Matt Barnes, Dennis Rodman, Justin Bieber and Spike Lee, among others. He has been on shows such as Good Morning America, The O’Reilly Factor and the movie Thunderstruck.
“I got to play professionally and got paid and got to work with some really cool people,” LeBeau said.
LeBeau is also a main actor in a pilot that is waiting for Fox network approval.
“I always had a little bit of flair in the way I played,” LeBeau said. “But once I graduated college and went out to Hollywood and started working in commercials and movies, that was when I started really working on the tricks. So I could stand out and book more jobs. Basically, I took all the time I used to practice fundamentals and put it toward tricks. That was when it really started taking off for me.”
LeBeau watches a lot, and reads a lot, of famous basketball ball handlers and legends.
“I copy a lot of their stuff and come up with my own stuff, too,”
A move that can be credited to LeBeau features the Ball Stand, appropriately called so as the handler stops during a breakdown move on a defender and stands on top the ball.
LeBeau added to that by spinning the ball on the ground and continuing that rotation while picking it up.
“I probably have four or five that just came to me naturally,” he said. “Not to many are legal in a regular basketball game. They are for show.”
LeBeau’s soccer play as a youth also contributes to many of his “kicking” moves or kneeing the ball or catching it on his feet.
Another of his inventions is appropriately called “The Spin Cycle,” where LeBeau, mid-dribble, catches the ball between foot and leg and whirls around an opponent.
“It has been a lot of fun, man,” he said. “Just messing around in the gym. The same stuff I used to do in Ketchikan, except now I say, ‘Okay, let’s come up with some tricks today.’ I recently got to hang out with Meadow Lark Lemon (an original Harlem Globetrotter). The guy invited me to grab lunch with him. That was such an amazing experience. He is such a legend and an amazing guy.”
LeBeau’s moment of clarity, when he realized that a basketball would be part of his life forever, came at Ketchikan’s Schoenbar Middle School.
“I was like, ‘Okay, I love doing this’ and then I saw the movie “Pistol, the Pete Maravich Story” and that changed everything,” LeBeau said. “He was dribbling on the train tracks and all that stuff and that was basically me and what my life turned into.”
LeBeau was hardly ever seen without his basketball growing up in Ketchikan and dribbled around town daily.
Last weekend in Ketchikan people reminded him of that.
“People were coming up and saying, ‘You used to dribble all the time and you drove us crazy.’”
According to LeBeau the “Light bulb moment” that opened his eyes to what he is doing now came later.
“A few years ago I brought a group of players to Sitka and Ketchikan,” he said. “We did these big games that raised money for the athletic departments.”
The response from the youth amazed and overwhelmed him.
“I knew I could do more than just entertain them with a basketball,” LeBeau said. “I could talk to them and share an important message. I found that when you are on TV or you have been around celebrities, kids are more open to listening. I may be saying the exact same message as their teacher or their parents, but I am a different messenger. Having that ability and that platform really put into my heart that I needed to use this to do something more than just mess around with a basketball. That is what I have dedicated my life to since.”
His “Attitude Is Everything” mantra is the title of a second book, which will contain funny stories and anecdotes from his experiences of the past few years in the entertainment industry and about growing up near Ketchikan and taking a boat to school.
It is a continuation of his first book, “Among The Giants,” which chronicled that life and various obstacles, good and bad, that had to be endured and eventually overcome. These life lessons and principles are woven in the story.
Considering what he has already achieved, progressing from an undersized point guard at Ketchikan High School to a street balling legend and television commodity and motivational speaker, meeting youth from Prince of Wales to Barrow will be just a walk in the basketball park.
This current tour through Alaska is also part of the “LeBeau Show,” another venue to get his message out.
LeBeau, and Point Loma University teammate Tyler Mutton, the shows co-creator and producer, are visiting multiple schools and locations in Alaska.
The show is a platform that will bring disadvantaged youths or victims of abuse from Alaska and partner them with celebrities and stars in Hollywood who have gone through similar events.
He is already partnering a Ketchikan youth with Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson, who has a foundation that deals with the issues the girl has gone through.
The show is designed to connect celebrities that want to give back with youth who need an extra advantage. The celebrities’ non-profit foundations will provide ongoing support.
“That is my long-term mission with everything we are doing,” LeBeau said. “We have some awesome celebrities on board with what we are doing and are finding the right team to develop the show.”
Last weekend in Ketchikan, LeBeau took part in “The Game of the Century,” a charity basketball contest between street ball players and former NBA players, a cause for Living Independence for Everyone in Alaska. He had an opportunity to thank a special person in his life, Kayhi janitor Larry Mestes, “the man who opened the gym for me every morning.”
LeBeau also played 55 games of one-on-one against locals.
He was in Haines on Wednesday and will be at Sitka today, preaching his street ball-infused wisdom at Blatchely Middle School at 1 p.m. and Mt. Edgecumbe High School at 3 p.m.
Next will be Metlakatla, Craig, Fairbanks and Anchorage.
LeBeau has traveled worldwide with his street ball cred and his “Among The Giants” and “Attitude Is Everything” messages.
One of his favorite trips was Indonesia teaming with former NBA star Allen Iverson.
“They love basketball, too,” LeBeau said. “Everywhere. I have gone on some pretty cool trips.”
Standing before the Mendenhall Glacier, LeBeau spun the ball from hand-to-hand, danced it around his shoulders, guided it around his legs, and coaxed it in an abnormal movement that passed from his foot up to his outstretched hand.
He held the leather Molten basketball out.
“This is universal,” LeBeau said. “You go anywhere and you may not speak the same language as them but they are excited to see guys’ dunks and the tricks. You can go anywhere in the world with this thing and connect with people.”
LeBeau has been told that he wasn’t big enough, fast enough or strong enough. He has been told a white boy from Alaska will never make it.
“So I hustled that much more to prove them wrong,” he says in his LeBeau Show teaser on YouTube. “It is funny how the harder you work, the luckier you get … I always root for the underdog.”