With LeBron James’s Cavaliers set to square off with the Warriors in a showcase game as part of the NBA’s MLK Day festivities, the Cleveland star was asked Monday for his thoughts on the legacy of the civil rights leader who was assassinated 50 years ago. While offering praise for the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., and for America itself, James also disparaged President Trump as an enabler of racist behavior.
James never mentioned Trump by name, but it was apparent to whom he was referring. The four-time NBA MVP began his comments by saying the league had done an “unbelievable” of putting together “a lot of great games” Monday in honor of “a man who stood for more than himself.”
“You always hear people saying, ‘Risking their life,’ ” James said. “He [King] actually gave up his life, for the betterment of all of us to be able to live in a free world, and for us to be able to have a voice, for us to go out and be free, no matter your skin color, no matter who you are. . . .
“He had a vision, and he took a bullet for all of us, literally. In the rawest form that you could say that. He literally took a bullet for us.
“And for us to stand here, even though we’re trying to be divided right now by somebody,” James continued, “today is a great day for people to realize how America was built and how we all have to stand united in order to be at one. Especially as Americans, because we believe, we all know and we all believe, this is the greatest country in the world.”
As he spoke with reporters at Cleveland’s facility, James asserted that “we are in a difficult state right now as Americans, with the leader of our country.” He added that “we all have to continue to come together and shine a brighter light on — I don’t want to use the word stupidity, but that’s basically what it comes down to.”
It’s hardly the first time James has criticized Trump, having said in August that the president “just made [hate] fashionable again.” In September, after the president had claimed he was withdrawing a White House invitation for Steph Curry and the champion Warriors, James called Trump a “bum.”
“For him to try to use it as his platform to divide us even more is not something I could stand for and is not something I could be quiet about,” James said at the time. He noted that, in addition to criticizing Curry, Trump had offered harsh words for NFL players staging protests during the national anthem, and for former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in particular, as well as for ESPN’s Jemele Hill.
Shortly thereafter, James alluded to Trump while saluting sports for being “amazing” for what they “can do for everyone, no matter the shape or size or race or ethnicity or religion or whatever,” and for bringing “people together like none other.”
Those comments, which were recently used in a Nike ad that included other athletes who represent some of the president’s flash points, came before James declared, “I’m not going to let, while I have this platform, to let one individual, no matter the power, no matter the impact that he should have or she should have, ever use sports as a platform to divide us.”
For his part, Trump said in a weekly address released Monday: “Dr. King’s dream is our dream. It is the American Dream. It’s the promise stitched into the fabric of our nation, etched into the hearts of our people and written into the soul of humankind.”
Trump, who began Monday by visiting a golf course he owns in West Palm Beach, Fla., had insisted the day before that he was “not a racist.” The president also denied that he had used the word “s—hole” to describe Haiti and countries in Africa, and he claimed, “I’m the least racist person you have ever interviewed.”
Among the many who reacted to Trump’s “s—hole” comments was NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who told ESPN on Sunday that the reported remarks were “discouraging.” Silver toured the National Civil Rights Museum, located at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where King was shot to death, and said the experience was “a reminder and an impetus to continue pushing forward with the kind of things that we can do together as a league.”
“Sports continue to be a unique opportunity to unite people, and it is a place where there is a rare sense of equality,” Silver said. “Certainly, we are proud that within the NBA, you are judged by your performance on the floor, regardless of your background, nationality or ethnicity.”
“The state of racism will never die, but what we cannot do is allow it to conquer us, as people, we can’t allow it to divide us,” James said Monday. “The guy in control has given people and racism, and negative racism, an opportunity to be out, and outspoken without fear.
“And that’s the fearful thing for us, because it’s with you, and it’s around every day, but he’s allowed people to come out and just feel confident about doing negative things. Like I said, we can’t allow that to stop us from continuing to be together, and preach the right word of living and loving and laughing, and things of that nature.
“Because would we want to live anywhere else? I don’t think so,” James added. “We love this place.”
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