In today’s charged political environment, sports is no longer an escape from issues that divide the country.
This became apparent during NBA All-Star Weekend, when the typically jocular “NBA on TNT” crew used five minutes of Saturday night’s broadcast to address Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s controversial comments regarding LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Earlier in the week, Ingraham blasted the basketball players for voicing their political opinions, telling them to “shut up and dribble.”
“I was so stunned by the personal nature and kind of the closed-minded and condescending response that Laura Ingraham had,” host Ernie Johnson said. “Everybody is like, ‘You got to believe what I believe and if you don’t I’m going to attack you.’ … You can disagree with what Kevin Durant and LeBron James said, but you don’t have to make it that way. It was disgusting to me to watch that response.”
James, for his part, said Ingraham’s comments, which were in response to a wide-ranging conversation between James, Durant and ESPN’s Cari Champion, proved that he was correct in speaking up.
“We will definitely not shut up and dribble,” James told the assembled media Saturday at the Los Angeles Convention Center. “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.”
As Johnson, who appeared visibly frustrated as he spoke about Ingraham’s comments, continued his thoughts, analyst Charles Barkley started to chuckle.
Barkley is no stranger to voicing his political opinions, recently endorsing Democrat Doug Jones in his successful Senate campaign in Alabama over Republican Roy Moore. But he was more amused than offended by Ingraham’s criticism. To him, neither Ingraham nor Fox News should be taken seriously.
“Ernie, don’t get emotional with Fox News,” Barkley said. “Fox News do what they do. Nobody pays attention to Fox News except people who voted for Donald Trump. …
“First of all, LeBron James is LeBron James,” he continued. “That would’ve been the first thing that I said. Who’s Laura Ingraham? If she was in this crowd right now we wouldn’t know her. If LeBron James walks around, these people be mobbing him, but Fox News do what they do. I laugh. Sometimes, when I want humor, I turn on Fox News.”
“You didn’t find ‘shut up and dribble’ offensive as it could possibly be?” Johnson asked.
Barkley doubled down, saying that, “if someone is trying to make me mad, I’m not going to get mad. She did exactly what she wanted to do.”
TNT’s other two analysts appeared to side with Johnson, trading the show’s usual levity for a serious discussion on Ingraham’s comments.
“Everyone, of course, is entitled to free speech,” Shaquille O’Neal said. “First of all I’d like to see her tell LeBron to shut up and dribble in front of LeBron’s mother. … I agree with Ernie. Ernie can say what he wants to say, I can say what I want to say. You don’t have to agree but you don’t have to take personal shots at people and it was very upsetting to me a little bit, but LeBron is going to continue to do what he does. … He makes great valid points and he’s allowed to express them.”
Fellow analyst Kenny Smith was even stronger in his criticism, saying Ingraham’s comments exposed what he felt was her hypocrisy.
“It was one of the dumbest statements I’ve heard,” Smith said. “It actually contradicted everything that she was saying. She’s saying you shouldn’t be able to talk while she’s talking about it. … It’s a contradiction of actually what you’re saying.”
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