LeBron James is no Michael Jordan. Given the chance to weigh in on the widespread frustrations over the recent grand jury decisions involving white police officers shooting unarmed black men, James has firmly sided with the protesters.
And he has chosen to do it in a very visible way:
"I can't breathe" -- Eric Garner's final words -- have become a rallying cry for protesters staging sit-ins and on social media. Garner, 43, died in July during an altercation with a police officer in Staten Island. Last week a grand jury declined to indict the officer who used a chokehold on Garner while trying to arrest him.
James was joined in his on court protest during warm-ups by his teammate, Kyrie Irving:
Kyrie Irving warming up in a "I Can't Breathe" shirt pic.twitter.com/36HbDPHda2— Ohm Youngmisuk (@NotoriousOHM) December 8, 2014
The incident came with its own play-by-play, an acknowledgement that it was a moment:
LeBron James has a black "I can't breathe" shirt in his locker— Stefan Bondy (@nydninternets) December 8, 2014
Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls and the Seattle Seahawks players have made similar gestures. NBA commissioner Adam Silver told Yahoo News: "I respect Derrick Rose and all of our players for voicing their personal views on important issues but my preference would be for players to abide by our on-court attire rules."
Yet LeBron's activism is still a big deal. This is King James we're talking about. He is one of the most famous athletes in the world, the corporate face of a few brands, and he is at the height of his career. And, oh yeah, Prince William and his wife, Kate, were at the game as the Cavaliers faced the Brooklyn Nets.
Taken as a whole these protests represent a noticeable departure from what we typically see from athletes. Michael Jordan kept himself on the sidelines on matters of race and politics. He famously said "Republicans buy sneakers too," when asked by the Harvey Gantt campaign to endorse his candidacy for North Carolina senator. (That contest was notably charged with racial themes.) Jordan also tried to bust up the NBA players union during his playing days.
It's not exactly a surprise that James has spoken out. He did the same thing with the Trayvon Martin case, organizing his teammates for this photo that he then tweeted out:
But again, tweeting a photo and speaking out during a game that will certainly get global ink because of the presence of the royals, is another level. It puts James in the company of activist players, and it also shows that he and others who may look to Jordan as a measuring stick for greatness on the court, have chosen not to be like Mike when it comes to engaging with social issues.