LeBron James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the future of his sport at age 17.
He came of age in an era where most of the people he encountered had a camera in their pockets, an entirely new experience for celebrities of all stripes. Every minute of his public life could be captured by citizen paparazzi, every positive interaction and any negative interaction.
Despite that, 18 years have passed, every day of it with the world watching, and as far as we know he’s been a model human being.
On the eve of Election Day, the sitting president of the United States, who should be making his final pitch to American voters as to why he believes he deserves a second term in office, was in Pennsylvania, a state critical to his re-election chances, railing about people who don’t support him.
Pop superstar Lady Gaga, who was campaigning with Democratic candidate Joe Biden on Monday.
Cultural icon Beyoncé (or Beyon-see, as Trump pronounced her name), who posted a picture of herself in a hat with an “I Voted” sticker and Biden/Kamala Harris face mask on Instagram, and her husband, Jay-Z.
Eighties rock god Jon Bon Jovi, who recently played at a concert supporting the Democratic ticket.
And LeBron James.
James is a frequent target of Trump and his followers, mostly because he is a Black man who is insanely talented, wealthy and refuses to simply “shut up and dribble” as has patronizingly been suggested by at least one Fox News host.
Trump told the crowd at Wilkes-Barre Scranton Airport that he felt badly for James, and said “down 71 percent,” which likely a reference to the NBA Finals ratings, which were down significantly but not 71 percent.
“When they don’t respect our flag, when they don’t respect our country, nobody wants to watch,” Trump said. “Nobody.”
(This, of course, conveniently ignores the fact that most sporting events involving men have seen a steep decline in television ratings this year, including golf, which isn’t exactly a bastion of social-justice warriors, and the Kentucky Derby, which, last we checked, didn’t include the horses chanting “Black lives matter” as they made their way to the starting gate.)
The Trump crowd began to chant, “LeBron James sucks! LeBron James sucks!”
A comical refrain for so many reasons.
First and foremost: If nearly any one of those people chanting ran into James on the street, they’d be agog and asking for an autograph or selfie. I’m almost certain none of them would have the temerity to tell James to his face that he “sucks.”
There is also the fact that by pretty much every measure, James doesn’t suck. Sure, he might be hyper-aware of what’s said about him or how he’s portrayed, and sometimes it might seem like he’s trying a little too hard, but those things don’t make him a bad person.
They make him human.
There remains a segment of people in this country who believe that Black Americans who achieve a certain station — which they of course determine — should be “grateful” that they’re “allowed” to play a game for a living or dance and sing for a living, or, simply, live. Or that since they’ve achieved that nebulous station of their choosing, they should be stripped of the right to speak up and demand that America work toward the ideals set forth in its Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
Far from staying quiet to appease that segment, James has found his voice, and used it, his name, his money and his time in far-ranging efforts to make this a more perfect union.
In June, James launched “More Than A Vote,” which aimed to fight voter suppression and support get out the vote efforts. “More Than A Vote” recruited fellow athletes like Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix, WNBA stars Chiney Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins, reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and a host of others to spread the word.
MTAV recruited over 10,000 people to serve as poll workers, to help fill the gaps because poll workers tend to be older and therefore at higher risk of catching Covid.
The group donated $100,000 to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which helped pay the fines for formerly incarcerated individuals in the state to restore their right to vote. Because of millions of dollars in donations, over 13,000 people saw their fines paid and became eligible to cast a ballot in the state.
And we haven’t even gotten into the public I Promise School he opened in his native Akron, Ohio, the college scholarships he’s pledged, the $2.5 million donation to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture to support a Muhammad Ali exhibit, and bringing a championship at long last to Cleveland, one of four NBA titles he’s won.
In case it wasn’t crystal clear by now, LeBron James won’t be bowed by those who think he should shut up and play by their arbitrary rules. Far from it.
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