LOS ANGELES — Asked for his response to Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham’s assertion that he should “shut up and dribble,” LeBron James came up with two.
No, and thank you.
As always, the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player and three-time NBA champion drew a mammoth crowd during his interview session at Saturday’s All-Star Media Day. The Cleveland Cavaliers superstar, one of two captains for Sunday’s 2018 NBA All-Star Game, held court at the Los Angeles Convention Center on topics ranging from the onward march of international talent in the NBA (“At the end of the day, our game is so worldwide, and to have so many different competitors from all over the world is what makes our game beautiful”) to the just-released hit Marvel movie “Black Panther” (he hasn’t seen it yet, but he’s proud of it and the people who made it).
But the first topic James touched on — and the one to which he devoted most of his attention during his press conference — was Ingraham’s response to a video in which James and Kevin Durant criticized President Donald Trump. In the clip, James said that Trump, elected to “the No. 1 job in America, the appointed person, is someone who doesn’t understand the people and really don’t give a f*** about the people.” Ingraham highlighted the video during Thursday’s episode of her Fox News show, calling James and Durant’s comments “ignorant” and recommending that they “keep the political commentary to yourself, or, as someone once said, ‘Shut up and dribble.’”
Durant and James both offered responses on Friday …
and James spoke at length about the matter on Saturday.
“I actually laughed, at first, when I first saw the reports,” James said. “And then I watched the video, and I saw exactly how it was put off. Well, first of all, I had no idea who she is or what she do. So, she won in that case, because now I know who she is. For her to go up there and say what she said, I mean, first of all, I would have had a little more respect for her if she had actually wrote those words. She probably said it right off the teleprompter. But that’s OK.
“You know, we live in a — we’re back to everything I’ve been talking about the last few years. So that lets me know that everything I’ve been saying is 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 mean too much to so many kids that feel like they don’t have a way out, and they need someone to help lead them out of the situation they’re in.
“I also wish she would have did a little bit more fact-checking,” James added. “Because I actually did finish high school and didn’t leave early. I graduated high school.”
James spoke about why he feels it’s vital to use the sizable platform he has as an internationally renowned athlete to speak his mind and share his views on social and political issues, hitting on the notion that, as “an African-American kid [who grew] up in the inner city, with a single-parent mother, and not being financially stable,” it’s important to show others in similar circumstances that it’s possible to “defeat the odds” and engage with a wider world in a broader context.
“And I want every kid to know that, and I want everybody to know — the youth — that they can do it as well,” he said. “And that’s why I will not just shut up and dribble, because I mean too much to my two [sons] here, their best friend right here, my daughter that’s at home, my wife, my family, and all these other kids that look up to me for inspiration and trying to find a way out, and find some leeway on how they can become as great as they can be, and how those dreams can become reality.
“The best thing [Ingraham] did [with her comments], that’s going to help me, is create more awareness,” he continued. “So I appreciate her for even giving me even more awareness. […] This is the best weekend of the NBA, where all the countries in the whole entire world come and watch the greatest players in the world, no matter if they’re a part of Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday, and 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.”
James, who has been vocal about his belief that the president “doesn’t even care” about issues of racial and social injustice impacting many across America, said he feels compelled to continue discussing those issues in major public forums because not every African-American gets the chance to do so.
“I do it because I know that this is bigger than just me, personally,” he said. “The hardest thing in the world for me personally is raising two African-American boys and an African-American daughter in today’s society. It’s hard. […] Me having this platform, I’m just trying to shed a positive light on what I feel like is right. Am I always right? Can I have everybody follow me? I don’t think so. But I feel what’s right. I feel like, I’m looking at my boys right here, teaching them what’s right and what’s wrong, and we see what happens after that.”
To some, Ingraham’s remarks — “shut up and dribble” and “Must they run their mouths like that?” — represented an exercise in dog-whistle racism, questioning the intellect and political opinions of two prominent black public figures as a method of more broadly dismissing the intellect and opinions of black people writ large. Ingraham rejected those claims Friday, issuing a statement insisting “there was no racial intent in my remarks.” Durant disagreed. James didn’t sound too convinced, either, noting that similar remarks that have come from the likes of Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr haven’t met with the same type of response.
“Do I feel like her comments was racist? I mean, listen, race is a part of our country, and we know that,” he said. “I think that the engine that she sits behind doesn’t have a great rap sheet when it comes to race in our country and things of that nature. There’s been many people that’s not African-American that spoke upon the same issues that I spoke upon, and they didn’t say anything to them. So, you can look at it as being racist, or you can look at it saying it’s just ‘racial tension,’ which, we already know that. That goes without saying.
“I don’t think we’re sitting here and saying, ‘Oh, she’s racist? Or there’s racial tension? I’m surprised!’ We know what’s going on, and I’m just trying to shed a greater light, and a positive light, on the bad aura or the energy that some of the people are trying to give to the people of America and the people of the world. I’m not the negative side.”
As one of the most prominent figures in the world of sports and entertainment, though, any political opinions James voices will automatically receive widespread attention and scrutiny and, as a result, sometimes criticism. He continues to put himself front-and-center, though, because he says he feels that’s his responsibility.
“At the center of the [2017 NBA] Finals, my house was vandalized, here in Los Angeles. And now, at the center of All-Star Weekend, the lady said what she said,” James said. “Am I being used as a symbol? I don’t know. But if it brings the greater of good, I’m OK with that. […] I don’t sit up here trying to get a reward for it. I don’t think Muhammad Ali sat up there trying to get a reward for it. I don’t think Jim Brown or Bill Russell or Jackie Robinson, and the list goes on and on, that they sat up there trying to get rewarded for it. I think it’s just — this is just who we are. And we know it’s bigger than us.”
James, who spent four years starring for the Miami Heat, concluded his session by addressing this week’s tragedy in Parkland, Fla., in which a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killing 17 people and injuring at least a dozen others.
“It’s a tragedy. It’s a tragedy, and we’ve seen these schools and these tragedies happen in America, and there’s been no change to gun control,” James said. “I don’t have the answer to this, so let’s just sit here and we can have, like, a roundtable right now, because I don’t have the answers right now. But we have to do something about it.
“We have a kid who wasn’t legal — legally not able to get a beer at a bar, but could go buy an AR-15. Like, how? It doesn’t make sense. And I’m not saying he should be legal to guy buy a beer. But I’m saying how is it possible that we can have minors go buy a gun? I don’t have the answer to it, but, to the families in Parkland, down in Broward County, it’s sad. And I’m sorry. It’s just a tragedy, and I hope that we don’t continue to see this, because it’s been too many in the last 10 years. It’s been way too many.”