LeBron James, the NBA's Jesse Jackson: Why LBJ Was Wrong To Play the Race Card

Bryan ToporekFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2010

MIAMI - SEPTEMBER 27:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat pose for photos during media day at the Bank United Center on September 27, 2010 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.    (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

In an interview that aired on CNN Wednesday night, CNN correspondent Soledad O'Brien asked LeBron James if race played a factor in the massive backlash he received this summer after The Decision.

"I think so at times," James said. "It's always, you know, a race factor."

James is doing an awfully good job impersonating Jesse Jackson here, but he couldn't be more off base with his accusations about race.

All you need is one long look at LeBron's plummeting Q rating to understand that America, quite frankly, is pissed off at the King.  And it's not because he's black.

Otherwise, why would Kevin Durant—a player who's no less black than LeBron—be seen as the NBA's newest savior?  Shouldn't Kevin Love—the only white member of Team USA this summer—be the NBA's next big thing, by that logic?

Something tells me Durant isn't too worried about Love surpassing him. 

Nevertheless, James' manager, Maverick Carter—you may better remember Carter as the marketing genius behind the The Decision—couldn't help but jump into the racial discourse during Wednesday's interview.

"[Race] definitely played a role in some of the stuff coming out of the media, things that were written for sure," said Carter.

Seeing as Carter was primarily responsible for the single worst P.R. move of the past decade, it's hard not to take everything he says with a grain of salt, don’t you think?  Could we have some examples of the "things that were written," Mr. Carter?

No, LeBron, America isn't lashing out at you because you're black.  Believe it or not, we even have a black president now!  (Or are you going on TV next week to say that America's disillusionment with President Obama has adversely affected you and all other black celebrities?)

America isn't even lashing out at you because you left Cleveland.  Sure, your name may have replaced Voldemort's as "He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named" in Ohio.  But the majority of the sensible, sports-watching public understands that, as a free agent, you had the right to leave Cleveland.

LeBron, America lashed out at you because of the way you left Cleveland, not because you left.

Going on TV and taking a tinkle on your hometown by unabashedly announcing that you'd be taking your talents to South Beach—that was the real nail in the "Let's Get America to Hate Me" coffin.

This one sentence, written by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, sums up the general thought process going around the NBA world on July 8, hours before The Decision: "The TV event had delivered hope to the Cavaliers that they would keep James because they never believed he would go on air and open himself to such a visceral reaction."

I remember waking up on July 8, reading a report on ESPN titled, "Source: LeBron James to choose Miami Heat," and being absolutely stunned.  I wasn't the only one.

Twitter was melting down from LBJ conspiracy theories, ranging from "his handlers planted this as an intentional lie" to "oh my God, he really is detached enough from the world to break up with Cleveland on live, national TV?"

Apparently, according to Wojnarowski, LeBron had "several friends" tell him not to go through with The Decision, saying it would be a "public-relations disaster for him."  You didn't need Miss Cleo to see through that crystal ball.

"James didn’t seem to agree, didn’t think it made a difference," Wojnarowski wrote. "Mad was mad, he thought. He would take a beating, but it would subside and people would love him again in Cleveland."

It's that hubris that cost LeBron James America's affection.

See, when Kevin Durant talks about hard work and humility, it's believable.  When LBJ says that his free agency process "humbled" him, you want to laugh in his face. 

How do you humble a guy who hasn't been told "no" in almost 10 years?  Humility isn't about having everyone tell you how great you are all the time. 

This is nothing against LeBron James, the basketball player.  In my estimation, on the court, LBJ is the single most terrifying force in the NBA.  He's the most talented player currently playing.  He can affect every single aspect of a coach's gameplan.

LeBron James, the basketball player, has earned the adulation that was draped upon him before that fateful night in July.

But by taking to the airwaves and breaking up with Cleveland, LeBron quickly learned that not even he is immune to the occasional public uproar.  (Didn't the Tiger Woods scandal teach these sports superstars anything?)

And instead of owning up to his mistakes—instead of saying, "You know what? I made a poor decision by announcing my decision on national TV that way"—LeBron resorted to the race card.

Bravo, LeBron.   

I hope my invitation to FantasyLand is in the mail.