The word “discouragement” is not in Jesse LeBeau’s vocabulary. At five-foot seven, most people would have tossed aside even the slightest hope of ever becoming a basketball player. LeBeau, on the other hand, has truly made the most of his gifts. Since moving to Hollywood, the streetball player, actor, author, and motivational speaker has played and performed alongside some of the biggest names in the entertainment business. His book, Among the Giants, was just released this month, and divulges the secrets of his incredible success.
Tell us a bit about your family.
I grew up in Ketchikan, Alaska. My dad was originally in California, but he moved up to Alaska where he met and married my mom. We lived in a home across the bay. My mom was a school teacher, and every morning I would take a five minute boat ride and then drive with her for thirty minutes to get to school. I have an older brother named Luke, who is nine years older than me. I’ve always looked up to him. He is now a pilot. I also have a sister who is eleven years older than me. She’s awesome; she’s an amazing singer, and now she works as a school teacher up in Ketchikan. I was basically the accident child who came along a lot later in life.
How did your career get started?
Growing up, I was always into a lot of different sports, but when I got to high school, I decided that basketball was the game I wanted to give all of my time to. I ended up going to college in San Diego and played basketball there. I got really good grades in high school. I still did pretty well in college, but I was definitely in it for the basketball. After I graduated, I went back home to Alaska and worked in the fishing industry. I was working one day when I realized: I’ve got my degree! What am I doing here on this boat out in the middle of nowhere? (I was covered in fish slime at the time, and my boss was yelling at me.) I decided right then that I would move to Hollywood. Fast forward nine months and I was in my first commercial with Kobe Bryant, which started me down the path to being in the entertainment business.
Growing up, who were some of your heroes?
My brother was definitely a big hero of mine. He was the local basketball star. Growing up in such a small town where it was cold and dark all the time, high school basketball was a pretty big deal. Everyone would go to the games, and my brother would score all of the three-pointers—everyone would yell and scream! I decided that I wanted to be like him some day.
My dad, of course, is someone I’ve always looked up to as well. My best friend too, for a while, since my brother and sister were so much older than me. My dad possesses a lot of qualities that I believe have helped me become who I am today. He taught me to have the right attitude, to follow my dreams, and to believe in myself. I also looked up to lot of basketball players, of course—especially the ones that were little, because I could relate to them. One of my favorite basketball players was Allen Iverson, which is cool because I got to be his teammate last year! Getting to know him was an amazing experience.
What inspired you to write Among the Giants and who is it written for?
I actually started to write the book in Louisiana while I was working on a movie called Thunderstruck with Kevin Durant. I didn’t think I was writing a book at the time; I just remember talking to my parents and telling them that I needed to write down and remember all of the things that I was getting to do—the things that weren’t normal and that a lot of people would be really excited about if they had the same opportunities.
A year or two later, I was invited back up to Alaska to put on some shows and raise money for the area. I realized there what my calling in life was. I was overwhelmed by the response that I got from the kids there, and I knew that I had to do something more than just play basketball. It was my responsibility to do more. I wanted to share my story and start speaking full time, to use my opportunities as a platform to inspire kids to create the lives that they want to live. I decided that I wanted to share my story in more than just a forty-five-minute speech. So I decided to write a book about it.
What do you hope people will take away from Among the Giants?
You know, I think that a lot of people get caught up in what’s realistic as opposed to what they would like to do and what they’re passionate about. This isn’t just a book for kids; I’ve had thirty-five-year-old men write to me about how inspired they were by the book, and how they’re finally going after things they’d previously given up on. That’s the overlaying message: It doesn’t matter what it is you want to do and how impossible it seems; if you have the right attitude and you put in the work, there’s nothing stopping you. I recommend people to find what their personal mission statement. Once you do, the rest of your decisions will become that much easier to make. Your attitude is everything. Everyone needs to have confidence in themselves.
Is there anything else you’d like to add? Do you have any other interests or hobbies that we might not know about
I spend a lot of my time finding people who are successful and studying their lives. I’ve always surrounded myself with people who are more successful than me. When I was little, my sister dated this guy who was six-foot five. He was a football player. He would take me to the gym and let me play basketball against the adults there. They were all bigger and stronger than I was, so I had to learn how to get faster and play smarter. That experience has carried over into every aspect of my life. When I first moved to LA, I found out where all of the entertainment people played basketball. I just showed up, acted like I was supposed to be there, and long story short, I became friends with a lot of really successful people. That’s how I landed commercials and films.
Seek out people who are like-minded. It’s easy to be around people who make you look good, people who are at a lower level than you are. But something that’s been fruitful, beneficial, and a real blessing in my life has been finding people who are awesome, people who are on track and who are motivating. I would encourage anyone who wants to do anything to find the people who are doing that successfully, to take them to lunch, and learn as much as you can from them.
Thanks, Jesse, for your time! Your story is one that we can all learn a lot from.