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Why LeBron James isn’t putting a social justice message on the back of his jersey

LeBron James didn’t feel like any of the options the NBA provided fit with his exact mission, and the Lakers star wishes he had been consulted.

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Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images

When the Los Angeles Lakers take the floor again to resume their season at Disney World, several players on their roster will wear social justice messages on the backs of their jerseys. Danny Green’s will say “How Many More?”, while JaVale McGee’s will read “Respect Us.”

LeBron James, however, won’t be joining them. On a Zoom call with reporters for the first time since the season started ramping back up again, he explained why not.

“No disrespect to the list that was handed out to all the players. I commend anyone that decides to put something on the back of their jersey. It’s just something that didn’t really, seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal,” James said.

James said that he had a few ideas in mind, but wasn’t consulted on the list of pre-approved messages that the league ultimately gave players to choose from. That list reportedly includes the phrases “Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can’t Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.”

James — a former vice president of the National Basketball Players Association who no longer holds an active NBPA position — said he would have “loved to have a say so on” that list, but was ultimately okay with not being consulted. He’s been fighting for social justice for a lot longer than players have had the option to put alternate words on their jerseys, and it’s for that reason that he said he said he never even considered sitting out of the league’s restart.

“Never crossed my mind that we did not need to play this beautiful game of basketball that brings so many people together,” James said, adding that he believes that the United States does seem to be at a point where he believes real social change is possible.

“This is the mission I’ve been on for a long time now, and it’s great that now a lot of people’s ears are opening,” James said. “A lot of people still don’t get it, and a lot of people are still afraid to talk about it, but the racism that goes on in America, especially for my people, people of color, it’s still here.

“But we have some ears, and we will continue to push the envelope and let people know that we are human as well. No matter our skin color, no matter how we look, no matter how we sound, we don’t want to just be used for our God-given abilities as far as our talent on the floor, our talents in the music industry, our talents in the clothing industry. We also want to be recognized for our talent with our brains,” James continued. “Just like everybody else, we should be treated that way. This has been my mission, and obviously you see that with what I do in my community, with the (I Promise) School, what I’ve been doing for years in my hometown and any place I go I try to give back and give that knowledge.

“But the good thing is that now people are listening to what is going on, so that’s definitely a plus.”

That’s ultimately why he also believes that wearing a message in place of his name, above the No. 23 on the back of his Lakers jersey isn’t necessary to continue fighting for the equality he’s searching for. He says he will continue to fight for social justice causes on social media, in his activism and even in his talks with reporters as the season continues.

With the NBA back, James is only going to increase how often he get his message out there.

“Everything that I do, it has a purpose, it has a meaning,” James said. “I don’t need to have something on the back of my jersey for people to understand my mission and know what I’m about, and what I’m here to do.”

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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