LeBron James beat the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, and under normal circumstances, he’s be able to be excited about the Lakers taking a 3-1 series lead with a dominant win — on Kobe Bryant Day, no less — and having a chance to wrap up their first-round playoff series as soon as Wednesday.
But Monday was not a normal day. Or unfortunately, in some ways it was all too normal, given that it was yet another day we as a society have been confronted with video evidence of the systematic racism and violence that has come to define the relationship between police officers and Black Americans throughout 2020.
This time, it was Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old father, shot in front of his children by police officers while attempting to enter his car, another victim of the excessive force that permeates policing. After the game, James was asked about it, and at one point, he apologized to the media for his wandering response, admitting that he can’t really enjoy the Lakers’ success or fully process this latest tragedy on what should have been a happy night for him and his teammates.
“I know I’m kind of all over the place, but my emotions are all over the place as well. I can’t even enjoy a playoff win right now, which is the sad part,” James said.
What follows is a lightly edited transcript of his nearly 1,400 word remarks on race and being Black in America, as well as the importance of voting, gun control and police reform, among other thoughts.
“I don’t have any reaction to George Hill’s comments (on wishing the NBA hadn’t resumed the season amid all this). Everyone has their opinions and reaction to what happened. What I can say is that if you’re sitting here telling me that there was no way to subdue that gentleman (Blake), or detain him... before the firing of guns, then you’re sitting here and you’re lying not only to me, but you’re lying to every African American, every Black person in the community. Because we see it over and over and over. If you watch the video, there was multiple moments where if they wanted to they could have tackled him. They could have grabbed him. They could have done that! Why does it always have to get to a point where we see the guns firing. His family is there, the kids are there, it’s in broad daylight.
“And if that video was not being taken by that person across the street, do we even see that video? There’s talks about that, like the cops didn’t even have their body cams on, that’s a possibility. It’s just, it’s just, well, quite frankly it’s just fucked up in our community. And us, I know people get tired of hearing me say it, but we are scared as Black people in America right now. Black men, Black women, Black kids. We are terrified. Because you don’t know. You have no idea.
“You have no idea how that cop left the house that day. You don’t know if he woke up on a good side of the bed, you don’t know if he woke up on the wrong side of the bed. You don’t know if he had an argument at home with a significant other, you don’t know if one if his kids said something crazy to him and he left the house steaming.
“Or maybe he just left the house saying that today is going to be the end for one of these Black people. That’s what it feels like. That’s what it feels like. It hurts. It hurts. And it’s through the grace of God that he’s (Blake) still living. Seven shots? Close range? And he’s still alive? That’s through the grace of God right there. And my prayers go out to that family and that community. But I got nothing nice to say about those cops at all. At all.
“I had so many emotions today, because today, for our organization, it was a great moment for our organization. Today is Kobe Bryant day, we’re supposed to be celebrating and rejoicing, and remembering everything that he’s ever done, not only on the floor but off the floor. Of uplifting the game of basketball. And at the same time, I see the video (of Blake being shot by police) today for the first time, and my emotions are all over the place. And I still have a job to do. Because I’m here. Because I’m committed. And when I commit to something I feel like I have to come through on it. It’s just who I am.
“That does not mean that I don’t see what’s going on and I won’t say anything, or continue to use my platform, continue to use my voice, continue to uplift other athletes to let them know that they can say and do what’s right and not fear what other people’s opinions are. It’s tough. It’s tough and we literally, we want change. As a community, we really, really want change and not only in November, but it starts there. It starts there. But we’ve got to continue to still keep our foot on the pedal then, even if we get what we want, we still need more. What are we getting? Because right now what’s going on it’s just not. It’s not okay.
“But I hope I can continue to uplift my community, uplift communities all over America, uplift the Black community and that’s part of a reason why I started More Than A Vote, just to get people to understand that how important our voices are. And the luxury of partnering with the NAACP the other day, trying to get younger kids in there to help with the polls and things of that nature because of COVID and the older generation are at risk, and there’s just so much that we have to do. It’s not like it’s just going to happen tomorrow, but being organized and having a plan and keeping our feet on the gas pedal is something that we’ve got to do. I know I’m kind of all over the place, but my emotions are all over the place as well. I can’t even enjoy a playoff win right now, which is the sad part.”
Asked a question about the work he was doing behind closed doors while in Orlando, James quickly corrected the reporter.
“I don’t think I’m behind closed doors. Because I can get up in here right now and talk to you guys about what’s going on. Anything that my name is attached to is going to be put out, and we want to do things that hit home and do things that are grand, and not just something that’s one-off. So I’m having conversations every day. I got half of my brain locked in on the playoffs, and the other half locked in on how the hell I can help Black people become greater in America. And that’s what it’s all about.”
And how can he help that community? One way he’s thought about is police reform.
“I don’t want to sit here and say that I know exactly what should be done, but I did see one thing about the level of time in the academy before you become a police officer. I think it was like... I don’t know, I don’t want to mess it up, but I know it wasn’t that long (from) you going to the academy and becoming a police officer. I mean, we got kids that’s going to college for three or four years, or six years, to get their Master’s. Or they even have to go again, and they still don’t even get the opportunity at the workspace or the job that they actually want to get. But we have people who are going into the academy and becoming police officers in a year or two, or whatever. You guys can look it up and you tell me, I don’t want to get it wrong.
“And I think firearms are a huge issue in America. I don’t know how you clean that up. I’m not saying that I got all the answers, but guns are a huge issue in America. They’re not used for just (the) hunting that a lot of people do for sport. Right now, for Black people right now, we think you’re hunting us, unfortunately. There’s just too many killings going on. And not only from the cops, but we also have our own thing that we’ve got to deal with, that we’ve got to get better at as well. Black-on-Black crime, we’ve got to get better (with) that as well.
“But what we continue to see from the people that are supposed to serve and protect — (trails off)... When I was in elementary and they used to come to the elementary school... DARE, yeah. They used to give us t-shirts and it was like happy to see them. I even had a couple cops growing up that I was happy to see every now and then. But you always have in the back of your head, you’ve just got to be careful. You’ve always got to stay on your toes because you just don’t know. You just don’t know.
“I saw a video a few months ago, or maybe a couple months ago, a police officer rolls past, and a kid was in his parking lot shooting a basketball... And as soon as the damn cop drives by, the kid walked behind his dad’s truck and waited for the cop to go by. That’s just sad. No kid should have to feel that threatened that he has to hide in his own house. That is sad. But I know what he’s going through because I was one of those kids. When I lived in the projects and I saw a cop coming, we hid behind a brick wall and waited for them to roll out. We see the cop lights come on, we ran. Even if we didn’t do anything wrong. It was just scary. It’s tough.”
And with that, James didn’t want to take any more questions. He simply got up out of his chair, and walked out of the arena, into the night. On an evening that should have been celebratory, he needed some time alone.