One of the last times Juneau saw Jesse LeBeau was during the 2005 Region V high school basketball tournament.
LeBeau has changed addresses, teams and career goals since he helped the Ketchikan Kings capture their second-consecutive Southeast title close to 15 years ago. Two things that have remained constant in the 5-foot-8 dribbler’s life?
Attitude and the love of basketball.
Nowadays, LeBeau — always with a basketball in hand — travels the country sharing his underdog story of becoming a professional actor and streetball player that he says was fueled by his attitude and work ethic. In an online talk, LeBeau says he became an underdog the moment he decided to become a basketball player.
“Every time I stepped onto a basketball court, I went up against bigger and stronger players,” LeBeau said.
LeBeau is the first of three athletes — a basketball player, BMX biker and cross-country skier Kikkan Randall — who will be broadcasting their stories to audiences at the 27th annual Pillars of America Speakers Series presented by the Juneau Glacier Valley Rotary Club.
The Empire caught up with LeBeau from Utqiaġvik over the phone Tuesday during a break in filming of “The LeBeau Show.” This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Juneau Empire: What message do you want to bring to Juneau in a couple of weeks for Pillars?
Jesse LeBeau: The main message (is) if you have something you want to do, you can do it, and the big difference-maker is your attitude. Whether you’re from a bigger city or a little island in Alaska, you have the same opportunity. It comes down to your mindset and your ability to not get bitter, but to get better.
Empire: What’s something you’ve learned as you’ve done a lot of outreach here in Alaska with different youth? What have have you learned about what drives Alaskans?
LeBeau: There’s such a special tradition of basketball in all the communities throughout the state of Alaska that allows you to go in and connect. That is what is so fun about coming back up here is being able to not only … share my story, but being able to be relateable. Basically my story is their story — wanting to do something, being an underdog, and having to overcome obstacles to get there. I can totally relate to the obstacles the kids here face whether it’s feeling isolated in an area where there aren’t a lot of people, whether it’s being an underdog, whether it’s the lack of daylight and things that add to depression and suicide and low self-esteem.
Empire: When I think about (how) you had some streetball experience, I think of the bravado that goes along with that. But it seems like you’re such a humble person, it’s funny to contrast those two (mentalities).
LeBeau: I think that’s the best thing I’ve learned from speaking so much is people really identify with the struggle. Humanity makes you a human. … The No. 1 thing that kids and audiences really connect with is your struggle and your hardships, and so the more I can share those and be vulnerable and be authentic about the things that aren’t so pretty and aren’t so fun to talk about, that’s when kids are going to open up to me about the diffcult things that they’re experiencing.
Tickets cost $35, and tickets for all three talks are available at both Hearthside Book locations.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.