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LeBron James turns ‘Shut up and dribble’ insult into title of Showtime series

LeBron James speaks at the opening ceremony for the I Promise School in Akron, Ohio. (Phil Long/Associated Press)

In the wake of dismissive comments directed at him in February by Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, LeBron James defiantly said, “We will definitely not shut up and dribble.” He will, however, use that widely noted phrase as the title of an upcoming documentary series his production company is creating in partnership with Showtime.

“Shut Up and Dribble,” a three-part series set to air in October — when James makes his debut with the Los Angeles Lakers — aims to provide “a powerful inside look at the changing role of athletes in our fraught cultural and political environment, through the lens of the NBA.” That’s according to Showtime, which announced Monday that the series is being executive produced by James and longtime friend and business partner Maverick Carter.

Gotham Chopra, who has worked on video projects with Kobe Bryant and Tom Brady, is directing the series, with the controversy over Ingraham’s comments serving as a “prologue,” per Showtime. The Fox News pundit was reacting to a video featuring James and Kevin Durant, which included the latter saying, “I feel like our team, as a country, is not run by a great coach,” while James said that President Trump doesn’t “give a f— about the people.”

“Must they run their mouths like that? Unfortunately, a lot of kids — and some adults — take these ignorant comments seriously,” Ingraham said then. “And it’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid a hundred million dollars a year to bounce a ball.”

“Oh, and LeBron and Kevin: You’re great players, but no one voted for you,” she continued. “Millions elected Trump to be their coach. … So keep the political commentary to yourself or, as someone once said, shut up and dribble.”

Trump insults LeBron James’s intelligence in an echo of ‘Shut up and Dribble’

Amid growing criticism of her comments, Ingraham issued a statement, saying, “If pro athletes and entertainers want to freelance as political pundits, then they should not be surprised when they’re called out for insulting politicians.” She added that there was “no racial intent” in her remarks, claiming that “false, defamatory charges of racism are a transparent attempt to immunize entertainment and sports elites from scrutiny and criticism.”

Nevertheless, her comments were the subject the following month of a “Saturday Night Live” opening monologue by Charles Barkley, who noted that “this country has a great tradition of athletes speaking their minds” and told James to “keep on dribbling and don’t ever shut up.” March also saw a pointed reference to Ingraham at the Academy Awards, when Bryant won a best animated short film Oscar for “Dear Basketball” and sarcastically told the audience, “As basketball players, we’re really supposed to just shut up and dribble.”

The Showtime series, Chopra told ESPN, is “really an exploration of how basketball is truly America’s game and the NBA has been a vessel for black athletes to claim pieces of the American Dream.”

“If being a star athlete is inherently a political experience, ‘Shut Up and Dribble’ tells that complex and dramatic story from the past to the present and from the inside out,” David Nevins, president and CEO of Showtime Networks Inc., said in a statement. “LeBron James is one of many competitors whose place in the spotlight has led not to silence but perspective, and he, Maverick Carter and Gotham Chopra have given us an important, insightful docuseries that should bring their fans and fellow citizens to a higher level of discourse, rather than the dismissal satirized in the title.”

James had criticized Trump before the February remarks that raised Ingraham’s ire, and he has continued to do so, most recently in late July, when he told CNN’s Don Lemon that the president has “used sport” to “divide” people. Asked what he would say to Trump if he were sitting across from him, James replied, “I would never sit across from him. I’d sit across from Barack [Obama], though.”

That drew a predictable response from Trump, who tweeted, “Lebron [sic] James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron [sic] look smart, which isn’t easy to do.” Trump also attempted to needle James by appearing to claim a preference for Michael Jordan, to whom the former Cavaliers star is often compared in greatest-ever debates.

However, a spokeswoman for first lady Melania Trump applauded James’s funding for a school at-risk children in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, in a statement in which she said, “It looks like LeBron James is working to do good things on behalf of our next generation. And just as she always has, the first lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today.”

No word yet on whether the first lady — or Ingraham, for that matter — is open to watching “Shut Up and Dribble” when it airs this fall.

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