By signing LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers got not only one of the greatest players in NBA history, but also one of the most socially conscious ones. James’ latest act of charity was opening up a school to benefit children in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, and he has also been someone to speak out against perceived injustices as he sees fit.
James was one of the first NBA players to call for justice for slain teenager Trayvon Martin, as well as organizing NBA players to wear t-shirts to bring attention to the death of Eric Garner during a confrontation with police officers.
Over the last year, James has become an even more outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, perhaps memorably referring to Trump as “U bum” in a tweet after Trump disinvited the Warriors from a visit to the White House before they could reject the opportunity.
In one of his first interviews since joining the Lakers, James showed that he’s going to be just as loud of a critic of Trump going forward as he was in Cleveland (via Don Lemon of CNN, h/t TMZ, emphasis mine):
“When you’re a part of sports, it just brings so much camaraderie and so much fun. We’re in a position right now in America, more importantly, where this race thing has taken over because I believe our president is kinda trying to divide us.”
When Lemon cut James off to ask “Kinda?”, James made sure to clarify he doesn’t think there is any “kinda” about what Trump is doing:
”He is (trying to divide us). I don’t want to say kinda. He’s dividing us, and what I’ve noticed over the last few months is that he’s kind of used sports to kind of divide us.”
And make no mistake: When Trump does things like refer to any NFL player who kneels during the National Anthem to peacefully bring attention to injustice in American society as a “son of a bitch” and says they should be fired, it’s hard to call it anything other than dog whistling.
And using sports in that way is a personal issue for James, because he’s seen the potential athletics have to unify people from different groups and help them understand each other:
“That’s something that I can’t relate to because I know that sport was the first time I was ever around someone white. And I got the opportunity to see them and learn about them and they got the opportunity to learn about me and we became very good friends, and I was like ‘oh wow this is all because of sports.’ Sports have never been something that divides people, it’s always something that brings someone together.”
He also doesn’t expect sports to be bringing he and Trump together any time soon:
On CNN, LeBron James said Donald Trump created an environment where people are more comfortable being racist. Asked what he’d say to Trump if he were seated at the interview, LeBron answered, “I would never sit across from him.”— Stefan Bondy (@SBondyNYDN) July 31, 2018
Regardless of political beliefs, it’s hard not to respect someone of James’ caliber standing up for what he believes in, and using his platform to espouse what he thinks is right. As James knows, that’s the power sports can give, and it’s probably why any politician painting athletes in a negative light in order to cater to the worst urges of their base irks him enough to speak out.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.