“Apologies, for sure, if I offended anyone.” Yes, LeBron James, I’m offended. I like to watch LeBron James the basketball player. I love the NBA and the game of basketball. But what the “King” did over the past week has been close to unfathomable, insulting and sad all rolled into one.
First, the Los Angeles Lakers star was critical of NFL owners during the latest episode of HBO’s “The Shop” saying they have a slave mentality. “In the NFL they got a bunch of old white men owning teams, and they got that slave mentality,” James said during the episode. “And it’s like, ‘This is my team. You do what the f— I tell y’all to do or we get rid of y’all.’”
If that wasn’t enough, James continued his rampage by posting part of rapper 21 Savage’s song on his Instagram account which included an age old anti-Semitic stereotype, “We been gettin’ that Jewish money, everything is Kosher”.
James eventually issued an apology, though weak at best, “Apologies, for sure, if I offended anyone. That’s not why I chose to share that lyric. I always [post lyrics]. That’s what I do. I ride in my car, I listen to great music, and that was the byproduct of it. So, I actually thought it was a compliment, and obviously it wasn’t through the lens of a lot of people. My apologies. It definitely was not the intent, obviously, to hurt anybody.”
The silence from the NBA, the mainstream media as well as Jewish groups has been deafening. What LeBron James did was classic anti-Semitism, using the age old adage of Jews and money to take a shot at the many owners and decision makers in sports. James, with a following of close to 46 million on Instagram can certainly influence the masses by anything he says and does. What he may not understand is that with great power comes great responsibility; and what he did was totally irresponsible and needs to be addressed.
Everything that James does is calculated and he knew exactly what he was doing when he made his recent statements. He’s no fool. As an intelligent human being, worth over $400 million and as someone who invested in opening a school in Akron for at-risk youth, I just can’t believe that he made this “mistake” especially after his comments about the NFL owners just days before. The problem is that everyone is afraid to rock the boat and take LeBron to task.
The NBA is a socially conscious league and one that is forward thinking which allows its players to make strong statements in public while throwing its supports behind many of their projects as well. But, and this is a big but, the NBA must differentiate between what is socially acceptable and what is just plain and simple anti-Semitism.
James is fully aware that 50% of the NBA owners are Jewish as were the last two commissioners while over 30% of NFL teams are also Jewishly owned. Put that all together and you have a perfect storm.
In an episode of his “Shut up a Dribble” show, James documents the Million Man March held in 1995 (which was actually closer to 400K) and used footage of known anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan who continuously spews his gross hateful diatribe, most recently comparing Jews to termites. There were close to 30 speakers that day and the one that is highlighted was Farrakhan.
ESPN, an NBA and NFL partner, produces a daily basketball show, “The Jump”. Although the panel on the episode following the comments discussed what James said about the NFL owners and defended his comments, there was complete silence about the Instagram post. Shocking? Not.
Where is the Anti Defamation League? Where is the World Jewish Congress? Where is the Simon Wiesenthal Center? Why haven’t we heard a word from the great Jewish organizations who claim to defend and protect the Jewish people and interests?
These organizations had the perfect opportunity to capitalize on LeBron’s error. They could have invited him to learn about anti-Semitism, for him to better understand why what he said was offensive and how he can use his power to make a better world for all. But instead we heard nothing.
Just a couple of weeks ago when Steph Curry questioned if man was on the moon, NASA took exception and used the media along with Curry to promote and educate, that yes, man was certainly on the moon. For Jewish groups it was an opportunity lost.
What do the Jewish NBA owners think of what James said? How about Commissioner Adam Silver and his predecessor David Stern, both Jews? The NBA has issued no statement. They knew full well that fining him for his comments wouldn’t have looked too good. But the NBA could have discussed ways to educate James and the many others out there who believe what he said was not offensive.
Sports Business reporter Darren Rovell, who shared the James screenshot and brought the issue to light wrote “Surprised LeBron, who makes very few mistakes, put this out. Does quoting lyrics from a song absolve the person quoting from the responsibility behind the words? I’d argue no, especially with a following of 45 million.”
LeBron James knows when to speak up about causes that concern him. Let us not be silent and speak up as well when anti-Semitism raises its ugly head. James needs to understand what is wrong and what is right and we have that responsibly to make sure that he does. There’s no question that he is a game changer especially with his following. Let’s not be silent as history has a history of repeating itself.