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Basketball has helped Kaden Lebray go far beyond Wilson, where, as Kason Cheeks, he was a star player at Hunt High in the mid-2000s.
But now Lebray, who legally changed his name earlier this year, is back in Wilson again and hopes to help make a difference here. For starters, Lebray will be playing alongside many former teammates and opponents Sunday at the inaugural For the Love of the City benefit games at Fike High. But he is also on the 2019 roster for the Raleigh Firebirds, an expansion team in a fledgling professional association, The Basketball League.
For the 29-year-old Lebray, basketball has been a means for a greater calling of spirituality, unity and service.
“I’m coming to the conclusion of basketball with regards to playing,” he said. “It’s now going to take on the job of building the community. In doing so, that’s why I’ve spent all this time in Wilson this season.”
Lebray, who has organized several unity events in Wilson over the last several years, ultimately hopes to have a basketball facility constructed here that will give young people an outlet and help keep them out of trouble.
“It’s not an excuse for anybody’s behavior — but as a community, if we don’t create these outlets for these kids, they don’t have an outlet,” he said.
While Lebray doesn’t have a concrete plan for such a facility in place yet, he does have a plan for helping his fellow man gain greater perspective based on what he calls “unity-based knowledge.”
His message, Lebray said, is, “Human is our culture. Unconditional love is our religion and Mother Earth is our birthplace. And if we only focus on the commonalities that we have with each other, then we won’t fight and fuss and be dissuaded from who we are by focusing on our differences.”
But Lebray doesn’t just talk the talk. He was named one of Raleigh’s “Hometown Heroes” by Raleigh radio station The Light 103.9-FM in 2015 for his community work. He is a frequent speaker to youth and school groups. Lebray said a near-fatal automobile accident that he survived after graduating from the University of Mount Olive in 2012 gave him a fresh perspective.
“That accident taught me that it’s important to discover the purpose that God put me on the earth for,” he said. “Now it’s all about purpose and mission because once you face a situation that shows you the potential of death, that should show you the importance of living. And that’s what it did for me. So now I’m even more serious and focused than I was. So God has blessed me by sparing my life so I want to make a conscious decision to be a blessing to everyone else.”
In addition to playing basketball in Kosovo and Canada, Lebray, native of Newark, New Jersey, who moved to at a young age, has traveled to such countries as Bermuda, the Dominican Republic, Macedonia, Greece and Germany. He even spent part of a year living in South Dakota and living among the Lakota Sioux, whom he said made him an honorary chief.
“There’s much more to me than being a basketball player,” said Lebray with a smile.
He was dubbed “Chief Rainbow Warrior” and said his time with the Lakota Sioux helped him learn “really how to appreciate Mother Nature.”
“When the trees exhale, we inhale. So we have a sacred relationship with the trees,” he said.
As Kason Cheeks, Lebray was a standout player at Hunt, from which he graduated in 2007. He helped the Warriors win a share of the 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference with Kinston and was named the ECC Player of the Year. He then went to the University of Mount Olive, where he was a key contributor for the Trojans. Since then Lebray has played professional basketball in Kosovo and, most recently, with the Moncton Miracles (now Magic) in the National Basketball League in Canada. It was those connections that led Lebray to his association with the Raleigh Firebirds. The team, which will be coached by former Duke University standout Robert Brickey, is one of four expansion clubs in The Basketball League, which was named National Association of Professional Basketball in its inaugural season in 2018. Wade Harris, who played at Beddingfield High in the early 1980s, is the managing partner of the Firebirds and their player development director. The team will play its home games at Southeast Raleigh High with its debut coming Jan. 19, 2019, at home against the Tampa Bay Titans, the first of 28 games.
While Lebray is excited to play close to home for the first time in several years, he’s more excited about being able to continuing his mission, the success of which he measures by how many minds are transformed by his message of unity.
“By who are able to see a slightly different perspective than they did weeks or months or days ago,” he said.