NBA superstar LeBron James has repeatedly shared his thoughts on issues of racism
"If I feel passionate about it ... I'll voice my opinion," he has said
After a racial slur was found spray-painted at LeBron James’ Los Angeles home, the NBA’s most prominent player sat down before a roomful of reporters and let out a sigh.
“Hate in America, especially for African Americans, is living every day,” he said Wednesday on the eve of Game 1 of the NBA Finals. “It’s alive every single day.”
It marked just the latest time James has spoken out on hot-button racial issues. Unlike Michael Jordan, the NBA superstar who avoided politics publicly throughout his career, James has repeatedly offered his thoughts on racism, unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest and other related topics.
Here’s a look at some of LeBron’s statements over the years, from his tribute to Trayvon Martin to his comments this week about the vandalism at his home.
On Trayvon Martin
After Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman in February 2012, James joined his Miami Heat teammates in wearing hoodies in solidarity with the unarmed Florida teen.
“#WeAreTrayvonMartin #Hoodies #Stereotyped #WeWantJustice” James wrote then in a tweet.
In a follow-up tweet, he said he was “proud of my teammates” for their stance and signed a petition calling for the prosecution of Zimmerman.
James also took the floor for a game against the Detroit Pistons wearing sneakers with “RIP Trayvon Martin” written on them.
On Donald Sterling
In April 2014 TMZ released an audio clip of Donald Sterling, then the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, telling a woman that he didn’t want her to bring any black people to Clippers games.
The comments caused an uproar in the predominantly black NBA. James was unequivocally clear on his stance.
“There is no room for Donald Sterling in our league,” he told ESPN. “There is no room for him.”
James said he would consider sitting out a playoff game in protest if his owner ever made comments like that.
“I’ve wavered back and forth if I would actually sit out, if our owner came out and said the things that [Sterling] said,” James said. “I would really have to sit down with my teammates, talk to my family, because at the end of the day, our family and our teammates are way more important than that.”
Days later, the NBA banned Sterling for life and forced him to sell the team.
On his increasing outspokenness
In an interview with CNN’s Rachel Nichols in September 2014, James was asked about his emerging role as a sports figure who speaks out on issues of racism and social justice.
“If I feel passionate about it and I feel something needs to be said or something needs to be done I’ll voice my opinion,” he said. “And I don’t speak without knowledge. I educate myself first before I dive into a situation.”
He also said the shootings in Ferguson and other related issues were personal for him because he has two sons, and he said he would continue to speak out as a role model.
“We know racism is still alive and the only thing I can do as a role model, I feel like I’m a leader in society, is to my kids and teach the people that follow me what the right way is,” he said.
In November 2014, a grand jury declined to indict a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. James took to Instagram and posted an image of Brown and Trayvon Martin with arms around each other walking into the light.
“As a society how do we do better and stop things like this happening time after time!! I’m so sorry to these families. Violence is not the answer people. Retaliation isn’t the solution as well,” he wrote. “#PrayersUpToTheFamilies #WeHaveToDoBetter”
On Eric Garner
In December 2014, James and other NBA players wore “I can’t breathe” shirts during pre-game warmups. The phrase was a reference to the final words of Eric Garner, an African American man who died when a New York police officer threw him to the ground using a department-banned chokehold, an incident caught on camera.
A grand jury in New York declined to indict any officers in Garner’s death, sparking widespread criticism – including from James.
President Barack Obama told People magazine that James “did the right thing” by raising awareness about the issue.
“We went through a long stretch there where [with] well-paid athletes the notion was, just be quiet and get your endorsements and don’t make waves,” Obama said. “LeBron is an example of a young man who has, in his own way and in a respectful way, tried to say, ‘I’m part of this society, too’ and focus attention.
“I’d like to see more athletes do that,” Obama added. “Not just around this issue, but around a range of issues.”
On Hillary Clinton
James, possibly the most influential person in the swing state of Ohio, endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, saying in an op-ed that “she will build on the legacy of my good friend, President Barack Obama.”
“Only one person running truly understands the struggles of an Akron child born into poverty,” James wrote. “And when I think about the kinds of policies and ideas the kids in my foundation need from our government, the choice is clear.”
On Muhammad Ali’s legacy
At the ESPY Awards in July 2016, James joined fellow NBA stars Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony in delivering a call to action on racial issues.
“Tonight we’re honoring Muhammad Ali, the GOAT,” James said, referring to the acronym for Greatest of All Time. “But to do his legacy any justice, let’s use this moment as a call to action for all professional athletes to educate ourselves, explore these issues, speak up, use our influence and renounce all violence and, most importantly, go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources, help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them.”
On Colin Kaepernick
Kaepernick, an NFL quarterback most recently with the San Francisco 49ers, decided last year to kneel during pre-game national anthems as part of a personal protest over police brutality and racism in America.
In an interview before the NBA season began, James said he would personally stand for the national anthem but added that he respected Kaepernick’s position.
“I’m all in favor of anyone, athlete or non-athlete, being able to express what they believe in in a peaceful manner,” he said. “That’s exactly what Colin Kaepernick is doing, and I respect that. I think you guys know when I’m passionate about something, I speak up on it.
“Me standing for the national anthem is something I will do. That’s who I am. That’s what I believe in, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect and don’t agree with what Colin Kaepernick is doing. You have the right to voice your opinion, stand for your opinion, and he’s doing it in the most peaceful way I’ve ever seen someone do something.”
On this week’s racist graffiti
Los Angeles police on Wednesday said a racist slur was found spray-painted on the front gate of James’ home. The day before facing the Golden State Warriors in the first game of the NBA Finals, the star forward put the incident in historical context.
“I think back to Emmett Till’s mom, actually,” James said, referring to the black teen who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. “That’s one of the first things I thought of. The reason she had an open casket was that she wanted to show the world what her son went through as far as a hate crime, and being black in America.
“No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is tough,” he said. “We got a long way to go for us as a society and for us as African Americans until we feel equal in America.”