LeBron James made one thing absolutely clear on Saturday afternoon during All-Star weekend about athletes and their right to an opinion: “We will definitely not shut up and dribble.”
In his first comments since Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham said that James — a 14-time All-Star and four-time league MVP — didn’t have the credentials to comment on politics or criticize President Donald Trump like he did in a video released on Uninterrupted earlier this week, the former Heat star, who led the franchise to its last two NBA titles in 2012 and 2013, didn’t hold back his feelings.
He’s been vocal for years about social injustice and equality, and the 33-year-old said he will continue to be.
“I actually laughed first when I first saw the reports,” James said Saturday afternoon at the L.A. Convention Center as he and the 11 other All-Stars on his team were being interviewed at All-Star media day. “Then I watched the video and how it was put off. First of all, I had no idea who she was or what she does. She won in that case because now I know who she is. For her to go up there and say what she said, first of all, I would have had a little more respect for her if she actually wrote those words. She probably said it right off the teleprompter, but that’s OK.
“We’re back to everything I’ve been talking about over the last few years,” James continued. “It lets me know that everything I’ve been saying has been correct, for her to have that type of reaction. But we will definitely not shut up and dribble. I will definitely not do that. I mean too much to society. I mean too much to the youth. I meant too much to so many kids who feel like they don’t have a way out and need someone to help lead them out of the situation they’re in.
“Also, I wish she would have done a little more fact-checking, because I actually did finish high school and didn’t leave early. I graduated high school. You know, to be an African-American kid and grow up in the inner city with a single parent, mother, and not being financially stable and to make it where I’ve made it today, I think I've defeated the odds. I want every kid to know that. And I want everybody to know that the youth, they can do it as well. That's why I would not just shut up and dribble.”
Kevin Durant, who was in the Uninterrupted segment with James that was released Thursday and filmed last month in a car driven by ESPN anchor Cari Champion, called the comments by Ingraham “racist.”
Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who won two titles and made four NBA Finals appearances with James in his four seasons in Miami, defended his close friend on Friday.
“They used to try and hide it,” Wade tweeted with a link to Ingraham’s video. ‘Now the president has given everyone the courage to live their truths.”
Ingraham, who is 54 and whose show began at Fox News on Oct. 30, 2017, responded to the comments by Wade and others with a statement issued through Fox News on Friday.
“If pro athletes and entertainers want to freelance as political pundits, then they should not be surprised when they’re called out for insulting politicians,” Ingraham said in the statement. “There was no racial intent in my remarks — false, defamatory charges of racism are a transparent attempt to immunize entertainment and sports elites from scrutiny and criticism.”
James said Saturday that he feels like Ingraham has done him a favor.
“She did the best thing to help me create more awareness,” he said. “So I appreciate her for giving me even more awareness. For me to sit up here in the greatest weekend of the NBA, All-Star weekend, this is the best weekend of the NBA, where all the countries in the whole entire world come watch the greatest players in the world, no matter if they're a part of Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday. I get to sit up here and talk about social injustice, equality and why a woman on a certain network decided to tell me to shut up and dribble. So, thank you, whatever her name is. I don’t even know her name.”
He also defended athletes’ right to speak on social issues.
“The hardest thing in the world for me personally is raising two African-American boys and an African-American daughter in today’s society,” he said. “It’s hard. For me to sit up here as an athlete — that's why I started a company. I started Uninterrupted because I wanted athletes to feel like they had the power. They had the platform to speak about whatever they wanted to speak about and not have it cut and diced and split into a sound bite and people use it how they want to use it. That's exactly why I started it. It can be as powerful as speaking about Trayvon Martin, or it could be as simple as saying what type of socks are you wearing this morning. That’s why I started the platform that I started, to have athletes feel empowered to speak about whatever they feel like they want to speak about.”
OTHERS DEFEND LEBRON
Other participants and coaches at All-Star weekend – including Heat guard Waye Ellington – defended James’ position and his decision not to “just shut up and dribble.”
“I feel that person saying that is not very intelligent,” Ellington said of Ingraham’s comments on James. “We’re people, we’re human beings. We’re not just athletes, we’re not just basketball players. We have a voice we can speak on anything going on the world, it’s not just about basketball, it’s bigger than basketball. When we get put in a box it’s unfortunate, I think it’s kind of ignorant at the same time.”
Said Raptors coach Dwane Casey: “That’s the worst and most asinine thing that I’ve heard. It’s like saying the guy who invented the laptop can’t have an opinion about anything. Those guys have earned the right to have an opinion. They’re the best in their craft, the best in their profession. Why not? For whoever said that, it was a very ignorant statement.
“People are listening. Hopefully, young kids are listening more so to them than anybody in the United States. Whether people don’t like it or not, people are listening to what they’re saying and I think it’s great that they’re speaking out and having an opinion about it and they’re standing by their opinion.”
Said Cavaliers All-Star forward Kevin Love: “[LeBron] can really make change, can really make a difference because he’s so influential and I think that transcends sports. When you look at being able to make a change, athletes absolutely do have a voice and we don’t want to be looked at as just that.”