NEW YORK -- LeBron James doesn’t know when it happened, but some time in the past few years he discovered a higher calling than basketball.
James, outspoken since the beginning of the NBA’s controversy involving Clippers owner Donald Sterling, said on Saturday that his life isn’t just about playing basketball anymore. It’s also about using his celebrity and influence for positive change.
“I felt like me just playing basketball is not my calling,” James said. “I feel like what I do. … Obviously I get all the limelight and the praise because I can play the game of basketball at a high level, but that’s not the end of it for me. I think I have a much bigger calling than just playing basketball, and I use my influence.”
In addition to his philanthropic organization, The LeBron James Family Foundation, James has also taken strong positions on various social issues over the past few years. In 2012, he organized a tribute for Trayvon Martin, the Miami teen who shot to death in Sanford by a neighborhood watch volunteer in a case involving Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law.
He most recently demanded that the NBA remove Sterling as the Clippers owner. A leaked audio recording of racially offensive comments made by Sterling has tainted the 2014 playoffs.
James said no one person has influenced his growth into a leader off the court, but he mentioned the work of Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Muhammad Ali as inspiring examples of how professional athletes can positively influence society.
“We had Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali and Bill Russell and all those guys … all spoke out on issues,” James said. “And Muhammad Ali went to jail for speaking out on an issue, so those issues were way bigger than what we’re going through today.”
Is James’ generation more outspoken than athletes during the 1980s and ’90s? James doesn’t think that’s the case.
“It doesn’t matter what generation it is,” James said. “It’s who you are. If you feel like it’s right for you to speak out on certain situations, then do it. If you don’t feel like it’s right or it’s authentic to you, then don’t do it. Don’t fake it.
“If it’s an issue that you feel like you should speak out on — that you feel like means a lot to you and you feel like there should be some right doing or wrong doing in a situation — then speak out on it.”
One of the James’ more understated advantages as an elite professional athlete is his uncanny ability to recall specific plays and situations. Teammates and coaches say James has a photographic memory for basketball and he uses it to his advantage.
“He’s a sharp mind,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He does have recall, and he can remember not only things from that game, but things from weeks ago that happened in a game, or strategy or something we may have covered in a shootaround.
“The great, great players tend to have a more advanced mind for the game.”
Said James: “It helps a lot, and I’m able to calibrate what’s going on throughout the game no matter what situation I’m in, and to know who has it going on our team and what position to put them in.”
This and that
• James didn’t have much of a reaction to news that his former coach, Mike Brown, was fired by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday: “It’s a tough business and Mike Brown got the short end of a tough business.”
• On Saturday, James said James Jones needed to play a bigger role in Game 4. James backed away from that statement before the game: “I don’t make the decisions on who plays or not, but I understand that he’s big for our team and he spreads the floor and makes shots.”
Jones checked into the first half with 7:38 left in the second quarter and the Nets leading 35-33. The Heat outscored the Nets 23-14 to finish the second period.