It won’t get nearly the same attention as the tv special, but LeBron James’ rejection of the NBA’s attempt to raise social awareness is the 2020 version of ‘The Decision’. From the moment it was announced the NBA would allow players to replace the names on their jersey’s with messages about social justice we have waited with bated breath to see what they would be.
LeBron Rejects NBA’s Social Activism
Speculation met reality when we got the list of approved messages last week. They were about what one would expect, “Black Lives Matter”, “I Can’t Breathe”, “Vote”, etc.
Some players have begun announcing what they have chosen. Milwaukee Bucks forwards Giannis Antetokuonmpo and his brother Thanasis have chosen “EQUALITY” for their message. Others have been a lot less enthusiastic about the whole thing.
Boston Celtics swingman Jaylen Brown was vocal in his displeasure with the league. He said the pre-approved list was an example of the “limitations” the NBA is putting on players.
“I think we should be able to express our struggle a little bit more… I was very disappointed in the list as well… Hopefully, maybe, we can get some more names on that list or some more things to add.” – Jaylen Brown per Masslive.com
The ‘Not’ Heard Around the World
Over the weekend, Shams Charania of the Athletic tweeted out that James had decided against putting one of the messages on his jersey; choosing to stick with his name, ‘James’, instead. Even with all the dissatisfaction from others out there, the backlash was almost instant.
“I actually didn’t go with a name on the back of my jersey,” James said on a video conference call with reporters. “It was 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.” – LeBron per Dave McMenamin/ESPN
LeBron’s critics were seemingly waiting for a moment like this. Not too long ago, they ran with his response to Daryl Morey’s tweet supporting Hong Kong. At the time James said Morey spoke on a subject he didn’t know enough about. The detractors were swift to point out James, who is very outspoken on social justice issues, was choosing to side with China. How can he claim to want justice for all while citizens in Hong Kong were being teargassed?
Supporters had a couple of choices of rebuttal. First, James is vocal on issues that affect the Black community, of which he is a member. Second, he is vocal about domestic issues of which he is educated. No matter how sound the counterpoint, though, the vocal naysayers had all the ammo they need.
It’s not like their charges are without merit. After all, LeBron was leading the charge to restart the NBA; saying players could still fight social injustices on the court. He also has started the “More Than a Vote” initiative and has long had “More Than An Athlete”. The latter is a direct response to those that would prefer athletes to stick to sports; an argument that people only use when they disagree with the athlete.
He even tweeted ‘#FREEWOJ’ in support of ESPN basketball insider Adrian Wojnarowski; who was suspended for replying to a US senator using profanity via e-mail. All that did was invite the ‘#FREEHONGKONG’ replies.
“I would have loved to have a say-so on what would have went on the back of my jersey. I had a couple things in mind, but I wasn’t part of that process, which is OK. I’m absolutely OK with that. … I don’t need to have something on the back of my jersey for people to understand my mission or know what I’m about and what I’m here to do.” – James per McMenamin/ESPN
Marcus Smart shared similar sentiments, stating “A lot of guys are upset…” with the lack of input players had in the making of the list. But LeBron’s decision still looms as the largest.
Stand For Something…
As current and former teammates, black and white, take the opportunity and use the messages, social justice’s most-vocal advocate in the NBA seemed to punt. It is a relatively new “trend” for LeBron, but some will say his voice shrinks when the money is on the line.
This is a ridiculous argument given all that he has done with the I Promise School and all of his other initiatives, including his production company to give people of color opportunities they otherwise have trouble securing. He has put his own money, face, and words behind these projects.
His actions off the court will forever outweigh anything he has and will do on the court. The optics here aren’t great, nonetheless. Perhaps he has some pre-game attire or a message will be written on his shoes. For many, though, the damage is done. They will call LeBron a hypocrite among other, less-flattering things and say this is akin to Michael Jordan‘s “Republicans buy sneakers too” comments.
Meanwhile, the rest of us will be holding our breath that they can actually finish the season. Because, again, there is nothing LeBron can do on the court that will outweigh what he has and will do off of it. That includes placing a league-approved message on the back of his jersey.