The discussion between NBA players over whether or not they should continue the season, or cancel it so that their (and the nation’s) focus can remain on the Black Lives Matter movement has been the biggest question facing the league’s restart attempts for the last several days.
Among the players on the Lakers, opinions have ranged widely. Dwight Howard has said he feels like the NBA should cancel the rest of the 2019-20 season, while Danny Green feels like players can use the platform of the re-start to focus more attention on the issues of systemic racism, police brutality and other social justice causes.
It’s become clear that LeBron James feels more similarly to Green than Howard, reportedly considering the choice between playing and activism to be a false dichotomy. And given what James told Jonathan Martin of The New York Times about his political ambitions in a story about the group he’s founding to fight voter suppression (from before this discussion all started), it’s probably safe to believe him:
Invoking the names of an earlier generation of athletes who called for social justice, Mr. James, a forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, said he wanted to be a model for future generations.
“I’m inspired by the likes of Muhammad Ali, I’m inspired by the Bill Russells and the Kareem Abdul-Jabbars, the Oscar Robertsons — those guys who stood when the times were even way worse than they are today,” Mr. James said. “Hopefully, someday down the line, people will recognize me not only for the way I approached the game of basketball, but the way I approached life as an African-American man.”
Considering the impact James has already made — most notably establishing a school for underprivileged children in his hometown, in addition to his new voter advocacy efforts and longstanding attempts to raise awareness about issues of police brutality — it’s likely that most would already consider him at the very least approaching the rarefied air occupied by the men above as athlete activists.
The popular rebuttal to any of James activism over the past year, however, has been a classic bit of whataboutism: “But what about China?” And look, James certainly put his foot in his mouth there. Repeatedly. No, seriously, it was bad.
For some, that incident will damage James’ credibility on other issues moving forward, no matter what he does. There is probably nothing he can do about that. With that noted, the Hong Kong protests also wasn’t a cause James chose to take on, simply one he found himself in the middle of. Does advocating for one thing automatically require someone to take up any other similar causes? If that’s the case, then quite a few of the people from the All Lives Matter crowd who constantly try to undermine James’ position on social issues by blaming him for not defending Hong Kong protesters may have to re-examine some of their own positions on mask-wearing, or killing grandpa to save the economy.
Whatever one ultimately thinks of James as an activist, given his stated ambitions in that area it’s probably safe to assume that if he does take the court again this year, he’ll do so while making sure to make a statement about the issues that are important to him. Because as he’s made abundantly clear at this point, he’s never going to shut up and dribble when there are causes he believes in.