Sports

LeBron James Looks Like a Fraud

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James answers questions at the Lakers media day at the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo, Calif., September 27, 2019. (Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports)
If these things really do matter to you, you should also start prioritizing them even when they may be inconvenient.

So, LeBron James claimed that Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey was simply “misinformed or not really educated on the situation” when he tweeted his support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

“I don’t want to get into a feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke,” James said in an interview before a preseason game at Staples Center. “And so many people could have been harmed not only financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually.”

“So just be careful what we tweet and say and we do, even though, yes, we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too,” he continued.

James’s comments have received enormous backlash, and deservedly so. Morey, after all, is hardly just some oblivious barfly whose only connection to the NBA is that the games happen to be on at the pub where he slugs back Coors Lights, screaming into a void that’s covered in wing sauce. No, he is the general manager of one of its teams, which leads me to believe that he actually must have understood the possible consequences of his comments, and probably better than most. I mean, even I thought of them when I saw his tweet, and my only connection to basketball is a single (very disappointing) youth season 25 years ago during which I failed to sink even a single basket.

So, why, then, did Morey do it?

To me, only one explanation makes sense: Morey places a higher value on freedom and democracy than he does on sponsorships and cash — which, honestly, is something that James could learn a thing or two about.

Let me be clear: LeBron James’s comments sounded like those of a straight-up Chinese-government plant. That’s how bad they were. They were selfish; they put his own already-stuffed pocketbook ahead of the values that all of us Americans should be championing — especially those in positions of influence, like James, and double-especially those who, also like James, have claimed to stand for them in the past.

James has, of course, tried to clarify — later tweeting that his real issue with Morey had simply been the timing of his tweet. Anyone who had actually listened to James’s comments, however, would know that this was nothing more than a half-assed cop-out. After all, if timing had been the issue, wouldn’t the issue have been at least mentioned in his original statement?

Worse, James’s comments were more than just a slap in the face to our shared values as Americans. No — they also may suggest that LeBron James is nothing more than a fraud.

Allow me to explain: James has tried to brand himself as someone who uses his platform as a damn good basketball player to advance what he believes politically. He’s taken stances on a whole host of social-justice issues, ranging from the killings of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and Philando Castile, to what he sees as the need for gun regulation. Many people, particularly in conservative circles, have had a problem with this. Some have said that it isn’t his place to weigh in on these issues, that he should simply play his sport and leave it at that.

I have never been one of those people.

Yes — I do happen to agree with him on many of his past stances. For example, I believe that our criminal-justice system does have a disparate impact on people of color and have repeatedly used my own platform to educate people on this and fight against it. I didn’t agree with everything he said, sure, but to me, my agreement was never even the point. In fact, even if I had agreed with none of it, I was still never going to tell someone to stop using his hard-earned platform to be politically active. When many athletes, including James, were facing exactly this sort of backlash, James said: “It’s about the equality and the freedom to speak about things they feel are unjust” — and I agreed with him.

Now, I’m starting to question my support. Why? Because, although his words may have championed “the freedom to speak about things [you] feel are unjust,” his choices in recent days make me think he should have then added the qualifier: “unless it interferes with me making even more money.”

Think about it: James has claimed that he stands for “freedom” absolutely, but none of his past political activism has come in the form of anything that would ever affect his bottom line. After all, it’s not like he was ever taking any real risk by supporting the causes that he’s supported in the past. Social justice sells. When Nike first chose to work with Colin Kaepernick, many conservatives predicted that this collaboration would lead to swaths of Americans refusing to support the company. This didn’t happen; in fact, Nike’s sales increased by 31 percent after its first ad with him. When some conservatives, again, made similar predictions after Kaepernick convinced Nike to cancel its “Betsy Ross Flag” sneaker, the company’s stock shares went up 2 percent, raking in a cool $3 billion.

But when LeBron James had the chance to show that the issues he’s been championing (when it’s been convenient) really did mean a lot to him? When he had a shot to stand up for what he thought was right, even though he knew there was a risk?

He, well, didn’t.

I have absolutely no issue with James, or anyone else involved with the NBA, using his or her platform to preach about politics. In fact, I find it wonderful. What I do have a problem with, though, is fraudulence — and that is exactly the vibe that I am getting from James. Yes, he may have acknowledged in his comments on China that Morey did have “freedom of speech,” but he said so only as a throwaway line in a statement whose thesis was that he shouldn’t be using it anyway.

Mr. James: Do better. Although I’ve been delighted to hear you defend “freedom” and “equality” in your words, if these things really do matter to you, you should also start prioritizing them even when they may be inconvenient — both in the instance of Morey’s freedom to stand up for the people of Hong Kong, and for those people themselves. If you’re having a hard time doing so, just remember: You’ve been one of the highest-paid basketball players in the country for quite some time now, and you can probably afford to choose your values over even more cash.

That is, of course, if you’re not just a fraud.

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