What could be more interesting than sharing a choice bottle of wine (or three) with LeBron James and Gregg Popovich?
Pop’s squad won 110-94 when the two faced off on Sunday afternoon, but Pop spent a considerable portion of his pre-game media availability heaping praise on LeBron the activist and human being while highlighting the criticism from Fox News’ Laura Ingraham.
“He’s been a brilliant example for millions of kids, especially of kids of lesser opportunity who haven’t had the same advantages of others,” Popovich said. “Think about when he came into the public view. How young was he? And to this day he hasn’t missed a step. He hasn’t fallen off the ledge.”
Pop’s comments come on the heels of a public spat between LeBron and Ingraham. In a wide-ranging interview with Cari Champion and Kevin Durant for The Undefeated before the All-Star Game, James spoke thoughtfully about many social issues, especially those impacting the black community. Ingraham took exception to the following quote about President Trump:
“The number one job in America, the point-of person, is someone who doesn’t understand the people, and really don’t give a fuck about the people,” LeBron said. “While we cannot change what comes out of that man’s mouth, we can continue to alert the people that watch us, that listen to us that this is not the way.”
After saying she needed a banner that said “jumb dock alert” (sic), Ingraham proceeded to call LeBron “unintelligible and ungrammatical”. She suggested he provided kids with a cautionary tale about leaving high school early. “Must they run their mouths like that?” Ingraham lamented, before telling the players to “shut up and dribble.”
Her comments are the most recent in America’s long history of attempting to silence and discredit influential black voices, and she was roundly criticized by people in the sports world. Popovich joined that chorus of denunciation on Sunday.
“To me, when I heard about that, it was like an unbelievable show of arrogance for a talking head to try to tell someone else if they can speak, what they can speak about, when and where to do it,” Popovich said. “It’s just ludicrous.”
Pop went on for several minutes about the inspiration LeBron provides his community, and he touched on how important it is for black kids to be represented in society and pop culture by strong people who look like them, speak like them, and give them something to aspire to.
“It’s kind of like the Black Panther movie,” Pop said. “How cool is that for kids to see that and have that superhero? Well, now, LeBron has been that for a long time.”
Calling LeBron a black superhero isn’t an understatement. He has pledged $41 million to promise over a thousand kids from his hometown a college education. He was born a freak athlete with a gift for basketball, and he knows that not every kid from Akron has those advantages. He gives those kids the opportunity and incentive to discover their passions, and the inspiration to work hard for their dreams.
LeBron’s work ethic and commitment to his community speaks for itself, and Popovich credited him with empowering a generation of young people that look up to him.
“They see in this guy somebody who’s consistently exhibited excellence in the workplace. It gives them a voice, let’s them know that you can speak about anything,” Pop said. “There really is a first amendment, and I can have opinions as a coach, as a plumber, as an astrophysicist, as a lowly reporter. I can have whatever opinions I want, and that’s what’s amazing about this.”
After the game LeBron responded to Pop’s effusive praise, calling him one of his all-time favorite people that he has ever crossed paths with.
“I just try to do my part to make kids understand how important their lives are,” James said. “If I have this platform, I’m going to continue to do that, and continue to lend my voice and lend my spirit and my inspiration to these kids.”
Black athletes have been told some variation of “Shut up and dribble” for as long as there have been black athletes in America.
“It’d be the same as telling Jackie Robinson to shut up and slide into home base, or Jesse Owens to shut up and just go triple jump,” LeBron said after the All-Star Game. “I can’t do that, because of so many people that’s looking up to me, and so many that’s going to come after me.”
Black athletes are told to be grateful for what they have as if they should be satisfied with meager social progress because they themselves are rich and past generations had it worse. People who have never had to deal with racism tell black athletes that their success proves that racism isn’t a real issue.
As Cari Champion took LeBron and Kevin Durant in an Uber through Akron, the two MVPs reminisced about their childhoods and she pointed to the inherent stupidity in one common criticism of wealthy black men.
“They think that that privilege makes you numb to the experience and that you don’t know what it means,” Champion said. “I don’t care how much money you have, you’re still a black man and you understand the plight.”
Patty Mills stepped to the free throw line on Sunday in Cleveland with the Spurs up 12 late in the fourth quarter. ABC’s microphones near the court picked up a fan yelling at the dreadlocked Mills, “HEY JAMAICA CALLED, THEY WANT THEIR BOBSLEDDER BACK.”
Hearing it on the live broadcast was upsetting. It’s upsetting that someone wanted to scream that at another person because of the way he looks. It’s upsetting that they felt comfortable enough to yell it twice. Mills saw the video on Twitter and responded with grace.
Thanks @thats_Z_Truth. I am a proud Islander. Like my Jamaican Brothers, me & my family in the islands of the Torres Strait have experienced racial slurs for decades. Hope your efforts will enlighten this confused, hateful fan. #BlackHistoryMonth https://t.co/yH3nKlGv4A
— Patrick Mills (@Patty_Mills) February 26, 2018
He hit both free throws, by the way. Like LeBron, he knows firsthand that racism is in fact still a problem in this country, even for guys that get paid “a hundred million dollars a year to bounce a ball,” as Ingraham put it.
The fan was identified and banned from the arena indefinitely.
“Having the word ‘nigger’ spray-painted over my gate, that lets you know I ain’t too far removed, and I still got a lot more work to do,” LeBron said. “They will always try to figure out a way to let you know that you’re still beneath them. You either cave into that notion, or you just chalk it up and say, ‘You know what? I’m gonna paint over this goddamn gate and make it taller.’”