Tag: LeBron James

Lebron James missed an opportunity with his comments about China

The NBA star used a lot of words to say nothing

By Jesse Washington

LeBron James had more than nine days to study the conflict between China and the NBA and formulate an opinion. What he finally said was disappointing for a man who is “more than an athlete” and built much of his brand on social justice and awareness.

On Oct. 4, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for protesters in Hong Kong who say they are seeking to hold China to its promises to protect certain freedoms. China characterizes the protests as rebellion against its sovereignty. Hong Kong has seen increased violence between demonstrators and police during four months of protests sparked by China’s attempt to legalize extradition from the semiautonomous territory to mainland China.

The context for all this is China’s treatment of its own citizens, which according to Human Rights Watch includes “arbitrary detention, imprisonment, and enforced disappearance”; persecution of religious communities; censorship of the media and public speech; and the mass detention and torture of Turkic Muslims.

These are all topics that the LeBron James we’ve come to know would care about.

When Morey sent his tweet, James and his Los Angeles Lakers were headed to play two exhibitions in China, which is a $500 million market for the NBA. China also is an essential partner for Nike, which employs James under a $1 billion lifetime contract, and a key market for James’ growing TV and film empire. (The Undefeated is an ESPN platform; ESPN and its parent company Disney have various business relationships in China.)

China responded to Morey’s tweet with the cancellation of both Lakers-Brooklyn Nets broadcasts and several NBA community events, and the suspension of a smartphone company’s NBA sponsorship. Also suspended were the Rockets’ TV broadcasts, its relationship with the Chinese Basketball Association, and its online news and game streaming deals. NBA commissioner Adam Silver tried to mollify China while standing up for the principle of free speech. The response from Chinese state broadcaster CCTV: “We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression. We believe that any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability are not within the scope of freedom of speech.”

On Monday, this is what James told reporters before the Lakers game:

“When I speak about something, I speak about something I’m very knowledgeable about, something I’m very passionate about. I feel like with this particular situation, it was something not only I was not informed enough about, I just felt like it was something that not only myself or my teammates or my organization had enough information to even talk about it at that point in time and we still feel the same way.”

That’s implausible. As if James couldn’t get any historian, diplomat or other China expert on the phone in the nine days since Morey’s tweet. As if there is no Google.

What makes this sadder is that Chinese citizens have no Google. It’s blocked.

James doesn’t need to denounce or boycott China, no more than Walmart, Coca-Cola or the NBA should. We all use Chinese products every day, and that relationship creates more opportunities for change. If James had simply said, “No comment because I do big business in China,” at least that would have been honest. Or he could have courageously affirmed the principle of human rights while expressing respect for China’s people and sovereignty.

Instead, James said Morey was “misinformed or not really educated on the situation,” which would be hard for James to judge after just claiming he was not informed himself. (Later Monday night, James tweeted that he was referring to the consequences of Morey’s tweet, not the substance.)

James also said that “social media is not always the proper way to go about things,” which is hypocritical for a man whose primary means of engaging with fans, building his brand and calling out injustice are Instagram and Twitter.

“We all talk about freedom of speech,” James told reporters, “Yes, we do have freedom of speech, but at times there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you are not thinking about others and only thinking about yourself.”

Morey has been silent since deleting his tweet, but he was likely thinking about millions of Hong Kong residents. Morey had nothing to personally gain. James, on the other hand, had his business empire to think about when he implausibly claimed ignorance on all things China. Besides basketball games and shoes, James will be selling his upcoming Space Jam reboot, which could earn nine figures in the nation that James has chosen not to be informed about.

I respect and appreciate James’ activism for social and racial justice, which began in 2012 when he and his Miami Heat teammates tweeted a photo supporting slain teenager Trayvon Martin. In many ways, that photo launched the current resurgence of black athlete activism. Back when Trayvon’s shameful killing gave rise to Black Lives Matter, few top athletes engaged in racial advocacy, fearful that fans would stop watching or buying. James had something to lose when he and his team were photographed in hoodies, but he did what was right. That’s part of what makes his China comments more hypocritical and disappointing.

I’m not one of the critics who want to silence James on racial justice, who want him to “shut up and dribble.” I believe in James’ proclamation that he’s “more than an athlete.” This is his time to be that, to fully inhabit the activist legacy of a Muhammad Ali or an Arthur Ashe. James once had the gumption to call out Donald Trump in a tweet, and the president stayed silent — Trump “did not want it with the King.” Now James is cowed by Xi Jinping? Or maybe he should be leery of the Chinese president ruthless enough to disappear Winnie the Pooh.

James’ voice is so influential, he could help crack the great wall of silence that China has erected against dissent. If James chose to speak on China, how many athletes would follow, as they did after Trayvon? Or do we expect that human rights will never come to China?

On Tuesday, James followed up on his previous comments by basically saying that China is not his problem: “I also don’t think every issue should be everybody’s problem as well. When things come up, there’s multiple things that we haven’t talked about that have happened in our own country that we don’t bring up. There’s things that happen in my own community in trying to help my kids graduate high school and go off to college; that’s been my main concern the last couple of years with my school [in Akron, Ohio]. Trying to make sure the inner-city kids that grow up in my hometown can have a brighter future and look at me as an inspiration to get out of the hellhole of the inner city.

What we can learn from LeBron James, school superintendent and the greatest of all time

LeBron James makes his way through the crowd during the opening ceremonies of the I Promise School on July 30, 2018 in Akron, Ohio. Jason Miller/Getty Images

By Brando Simeo Starkey

How do we create more LeBron Jameses? Not LeBron the dominant basketball player. But the LeBron who helped open a public school, The I Promise School, geared toward at-risk students in their hometowns. The LeBron whose foundations donated $41 million to allow 1,100 kids to go to college. The LeBron unafraid to voice his opinion when he believes a president is wielding sports like a cleaver to divide the country along racial lines.

How do we make more of those?

To accomplish that, we must entertain the idea that off-the-field accomplishments factor into how great an athlete is. To be one of the greatest of all time on the court, maybe a player has to be one of the GOATs off the court too.

One thing black folk know all too well is that the government tends to ignore our grievances. The government has little issue with locking us up. Little issue with depriving us of our vote. Little issue with spending money to inundate our neighborhoods with uniformed officers who see our black skin as threatening.

But using the public coffers to improve our life outcomes? The government is loath to do that. America remains far more willing to spend a dollar to incarcerate us than educate us. Black folk are seen as undeserving — we are at fault for the social ills that plague our population — and thus America is disinclined to use government’s vast resources to mend our wounds. This lack of government intervention creates an underserved population.

LeBron left a blueprint for other currently playing athletes to follow. Between the NFL and the NBA, we should see the potential for at least 100 more such schools across the country.

Athletes on their own can’t fill that vacuum. But athletes can leverage their influence in ways that make meaningful differences in people’s lives, as has Jalen Rose with his Jalen Rose Leadership Academy school and Derrick Rose with his recently launched scholarship program. James’ school in Akron, Ohio, is far too small to narrow the national achievement gap. But those 240 initial students who will attend the I Promise School, mainly kids of color who are at risk of being unsuccessful students, they will have the trajectory of their lives changed forever. In attending that school, students headed toward lacking the skills to contribute in a capitalist economy may go on to be leaders who pay their blessing forward to the next generation.

And here’s the key: LeBron left a blueprint for other currently playing athletes to follow. Between the NFL and the NBA, we should see the potential for at least 100 more such schools across the country. How do we get athletes to create those schools?

I don’t believe in pushing athletes to use their platforms simply because they have them. Encouraging a person to talk because people will listen strikes me as decidedly unsmart. No, we should instead push athletes to realize the good they can do if they become well-versed on both the needs of their communities and the depths of their power to bend, however slightly, their country more to their liking. We need to consider how we can encourage that. A partial answer is to credit athletes who choose to take seriously this righteous work.

We know enough about human behavior to know that people tend to do what they are encouraged to do. Show me the incentive structure and I can predict what most people, though not everyone, will do inside that structure.

We know athletes, like everybody else, want to be recognized for their greatness. Rookies, upon entering their respective leagues, say they have their eyes set on being the best. If would-be stars thought that to be the best, they also had to do work off the court like LeBron, then we should expect to see more athletes cognizant of the requirements for greatness and act accordingly. Besides shooting thousands of 3s a day to become deadly marksmen, they would be more likely to huddle with planners to build schools of their own.

In a country where our needs often go unmet, athletes have the potential to address that, even if in a relatively minor way. We should be investigating ways to push them toward that.

We count rings. We should count schools too.

A Year After Charlottesville

Two NFL rookies – one black, one white – say sports teach invaluable lessons about race.

By William C. Rhodes

Counter protesters gather at Freedom Plaza before the Unite the Right rally in Lafayette Park on August 12 in Washington, DC. Thousands of protesters are expected to demonstrate against the ‘white civil rights’ rally, which was planned by the organizer of last year’s deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

Sunday morning, thousands carrying flags, advocating white supremacy and parading under the banner of hatred will gather in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the anniversary of the Unite the Right march that left one dead and many injured.

Last year’s march was held in Charlottesville, Virginia, but this year’s was moved by organizers to D.C. when Charlottesville officials wisely denied permission for a reprise.

Kurt Benkert was the starting quarterback for the University of Virginia last year. The team was in the middle of training camp. The events of that day left an indelible mark Benkert will never forget.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Kurt Benkert (6) looks to pass as New York Jets cornerback Xavier Coleman (38) defends during the second half at MetLife Stadium.

The events changed his view of athletes and activism and gave him an understanding of how sports could be used to unite communities.

“It was tough because there was a misconstrued notion that that was the idea of the people around the city,” Benkert told me Aug. 10 after the Atlanta Falcons lost to the New York Jets at Met Life Stadium.

Today, Benkart is a rookie with the Atlanta Falcons, trying to win a spot as a backup quarterback. The events of last year, the anniversary on Sunday, rekindle memories.

“To see all the guys that I’m really close to on our team, how it affected them, that hurt me, too,” Benkart said. “I’m a white male – I’m not an African-American. I wasn’t affected the same way they were affected, but I felt that I was able to relate a little bit, seeing what they were put through and how they responded to it.”

The events that unfolded that day brought the team closer together. There was honest, open dialogue in a locker room with a large number of black players.

“I’m a white male –I’m not an African-American. I wasn’t affected the same way they were affected, but I felt that I was able to relate a little bit, seeing what they were put through and how they responded to it.”

Virginia had a disastrous 2016 season, finishing 2-10. They looked forward to a fresh start and then the Charlottesville hate rally happened.

“To start that new season and new life, then this happens,” he recalled. “The team had a collective decision to make: ‘Are we going to let this affect this year coming up? Are we going to let this divide the team or bring us closer?’ We became closer as a team.”

The team got off to a strong start, beginning the season 5-1. Although the Cavaliers slumped at the end of the season, Benkart believed the team helped begin a healing process in Charlottesville.

“We felt that we were a kind of rallying point for the community,” he said.

Does Sports Galvanize A Community?

LeBron James said last week that in his view sports brought people together. I say yes and no. Sports puts people together. I’m not sure the institution always brings us together.

The real change occurs not in the stands, but inside the locker room, where black and white players from diverse backgrounds must decide and find ways to work with one another. This often involves understanding, not necessarily agreeing with diverse points of view.

White players work side by side with a player who might have had a family member deported, or with a teammate who had family member brutalized by law enforcement.

“I’m not going to be the guy that outwardly speaks on things,” Benkart said, ‘’but I’m going to be the guy right there in the locker next to somebody who’s going through it, and I’m going to support them — be the ear that they need to talk to. I’m going to be the best brother and teammate that I can be to anybody from all walk of life.” 

Benkart always had been supportive of many progressive issues but said the event that unfolded in Charlottesville last year “kind of put it in perspective that it’s even bigger than football.”

“That was definitely tough, but it helped me grow even more. It helped me to become more of the person I want to be.”

He also believes that sports can be used either to bring people together or as a wedge to drive us apart.

“We do have a role to a lot of different people. The way that we handle situations will be put under a microscope and we can use that for good or not for good. I intend to use everything I have for good.”

A Life Lesson At The University of Missouri

Cleveland Browns defensive end Marcell Frazier runs a drill during training camp in Berea, Ohio.

Like Benkart, Marcell Frazier is an NFL rookie trying to earn a roster spot. Frazier is a free-agent defensive lineman with the Cleveland Browns.

In 2015, Frazier was a sophomore at the University of Missouri when members of the football team agreed to join students protesting the racial climate on campus and the treatment of black students. The team threatened to boycott an upcoming game if the situation was not addressed.

One result of the protest was that the president and chancellor resigned.

“That was my first year at Missouri, and I was a young guy on the team, just like I’m a young guy now,” he said when I spoke to him Aug. 9 at Met Life Stadium after the Browns beat the New York Jets.

“My say-so in that event wasn’t much, so I had to ride the coattails of my teammates. I did a lot of observing and just saw how the campus reacted to us and how our coaches reacted, who supported, who didn’t support.”

A native of Portland, Oregon, Frazier said, he was raised in a diverse community and largely was shielded from racism. He attended a community college out of high school before going to Missouri.

Observing the treatment of black students at Missouri who were not athletes was sobering. “It just opened up my eyes,” he said. “Being from Oregon, I was naïve to some stuff. I just kind of lived in my bubble. Portland is different place, and I never really was exposed to a lot of stuff.

“Just seeing what kids on campus went through, that opened up my eyes. It was a learning experience because there was backlash and lots of stress.”

In his first season at Missouri, Frazier learned firsthand about the collision of sports and racism. He learned that as a black athlete in a high-profile sport, he would have to make hard choices.

“It just taught me to choose your battles. It’s hard to balance athletics with what my teammates chose to do at the time,” Frazier said. “That was probably the most stressful I’ve ever been in my young life.”

Frazier learned that many fans in the stands were cheering for the uniform, not the black skin inside the uniform.

He felt a change his last two seasons at Missouri, as if air had been let out of a balloon. “It changed,” Frazier said. “It changed a lot. The stadium wasn’t as full, I don’t think we ever sold out after that.”

While some in the community cheered the football team, others denounced the team’s decision to become political.

“It was a good 50-50 split,” he said.

“There were some people who texted us and said, ‘way to go, guys.’

“Some family members were like, ‘Hey, man, be careful. You guys are climbing into the unknown.’

“Some people were proud. Some people were like, ‘What are you guys doing? You guys are athletes. You guys are here to play football. … I did a lot of sitting back and observing.”

But he knows from his experience at Missouri and from participating in sports that sports can be a healing force and a catalyst to spark honest conversation.

“My experience with sports has always been diverse. I’ve met a lot of people through athletics,” he said. “I’ve been around people from all walks of life. Rich, poor, black, brown. That’s the cool thing about football,” he added. “You take people from all around the world, around the United States, and you try to ultimately win games.”

Frazier’s dilemma is shared by a growing number of professional black athletes participating in the high-profile sports of football and basketball at the collegiate and professional levels.

Is an athlete a black man first and athlete second? Are his obligations to family first?The good news is that they understand that there is a battle to be fought against bigotry and intolerance and that sports can be a powerful tool to fight that good fight.

In a climate where white supremacists feel emboldened to openly spew hate, Frazier and others must decide which battles to fight, when to fight them and how.

And there is the question of identity: Is an athlete a black man in America or a Cleveland Browns rookie free agent trying to make the team?

“I’ve got to put athletics before everything right now, just because I’ve never had the opportunity to make this much money,” Frazier said.

“So, as of right now, I see myself as an athlete. I don’t have any room to do much. That’s what I’ve been doing: knowing my role and trying to make this team.”

Kurt Benkart and Marcell Frazier are evidence that, in the face of a rising tide of hatred, the era of athlete activism is expanding, not waning. They will fight battles in their own time, in their own way. Benkart, a white rookie quarterback from Cape Coral, Florida; Frazier, a black rookie linebacker from Portland, Oregon.

The good news is that they understand that there is a battle to be fought against bigotry and intolerance and that sports can be a powerful tool to fight that good fight.

In a climate where white supremacists feel emboldened to openly spew hate, Frazier and others must decide which battles to fight, when to fight them and how.

And there is the question of identity: Is an athlete a black man in America or a Cleveland Browns rookie free agent trying to make the team?

“I’ve got to put athletics before everything right now, just because I’ve never had the opportunity to make this much money,” Frazier said.

“So, as of right now, I see myself as an athlete. I don’t have any room to do much. That’s what I’ve been doing: knowing my role and trying to make this team.”

Kurt Benkart and Marcell Frazier are evidence that, in the face of a rising tide of hatred, the era of athlete activism is expanding, not waning. They will fight battles in their own time, in their own way. Benkart, a white rookie quarterback from Cape Coral, Florida; Frazier, a black rookie linebacker from Portland, Oregon.

The good news is that they understand that there is a battle to be fought against bigotry and intolerance and that sports can be a powerful tool to fight that good fight.

LeBron James, Michael Jordan and President Trump’s obsession with influential black male athletes

In a week jam packed with soulful culture, a President squeezed in a jab at the NBA GOATs, and the GOATs won

By Justin Tinsley             August 6, 2018

Exactly 23 minutes before midnight — amid the social media celebration of Barack Obama’s 57th birthday on Aug. 4 – President Donald Trump, as he is prone to do, fired off a tweet that made international headlines. This time he brought into his crosshairs two men who made No. 23 an iconic symbol of dominance: LeBron Jamesand Michael Jordan.

The interview to which 45 is referring is James’ sit-down with CNN’s Don Lemon after the opening of I Promise elementary school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. Like many other NBA players, Jordan came to James’ defense. “I support LJ,” Jordan said in a statement as short and to the point as the famed 1995 fax that signaled his return to the NBA. “He’s doing an amazing job for his community,” Jordan continued.

The new Los Angeles Lakers superstar had never bitten his tongue on the subject of Trump. “What I’ve noticed over the past few months,” James said, “[is] he’s kinda used sports to kinda divide us, and that’s something that I can’t relate to.” Asked what his response would be if Trump were in front of him, James kept it a hundred: “I would never sit across from him.”

It’s been a soulful cadre of days in culture. Intense. Hours before Trump’s tweet, the day began with the release of a slew of new music. Mac Miller’s Swimming, his first album post-Ariana Grande, is a petri dish of heartbreaking and depressing emotions. The result is an enthralling real-time listen to a man attempting to put his life back together. Enigmatic rhythm and blues starlet H.E.R.’s I Used To Know Her EP dropped, and it’s a fulfilling place holder for her long-anticipated album.

YG’s Stay Dangerous finds him reunited with DJ Mustard for his third studio project. It looks, sounds, feels and even seems to taste like South Central Los Angeles. Whether Dangerous lives up to the exquisiteness of 2014’s My Krazy Life or the brilliance of 2016’s Still Brazy is a discussion best left to time, but Bompton’s own found his new single “Big Bank” in the middle of the newest NFL public relations drama.

Colin Kaepernick’s name was edited out of Big Sean’s verse on Madden NFL 19’s soundtrack. Big Sean quickly took to Twitterdenouncing the move, and YG also pledged his allegiance to Kaepernick. EA Sports quickly apologized, but the damage was done. Especially as Kaepernick’s name had been edited out of last year’s soundtrack as well.

James, the kid from the mud of Akron, is the started-from-the-bottom American success story Trump has fancied as his own, since forever.

The standout project of the weekend is Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD. Much has changed for the Missouri City, Texas, native since 2016’s standout Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight. The biggest shift being that Scott is now the father of infant daughter Stormi with Forbes cover girl and cosmetics industry mogul Kylie Jenner.

ASTROWORLD, which is projected to be a No. 1 pop album, is blessed with a variety of subjects and ambience. With features from Frank Ocean, Stevie Wonder, Swae Lee, James Blake, Quavo and Takeoff, Pharrell, The Weeknd, Drake, Gunna and 21 Savage, ASTROWORLDhas quickly won rave reviews. James posted a workout videoapproving of Drake’s verse on the magnificently hard-hitting “SICKO MODE.”

I tried to show ’em, yeah / I tried to show ’em, yeah, yeah

Since announcing his candidacy in 2015, Trump has stirred the pot in the world of sports. The Trump/James collision course has been in motion for years, although tensions weren’t always so forthright. Case in point is this June 2003 photo of Trump, Melania Trump and James’ mother, Gloria, at the NBA draft. Or that time in 2010 when Trump tried to coax James to join the New York Knicks. Other interactions, moments and coincidences include:

May 11, 2015 — Trump calls James a “great competitor” after his game-winning 3 in Chicago. It was Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Two years earlier, he referred to James as a “great guy” after James scored Athlete of the Year at The ESPYS. And a year before that, Trump was rooting for James and his Miami Heat.

July 18, 2016 — Nearly a month to the day after James, Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers brought Cleveland its first pro sports title in 52 years, Trump takes his victory lap at the Republican National Convention — also in Cleveland.

Oct. 12, 2016 — James disavows Trump’s “locker room talk” in response to the Entertainment Tonight clip that featured The Apprentice star saying, among other things, “I moved on her like a b—-, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married. … Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything.”

Oct. 2, 2016 — James officially endorses Trump’s political foe Hillary Clinton, saying, “Only one person running truly understands the struggles of an Akron child born into poverty. And when I think about the kinds of policies and ideas the kids in my foundation need from our government, the choice is clear.”

Nov. 6, 2016 — James and then-teammate J.R. Smith appear onstage with Clinton at a Cleveland rally.

Nov. 9, 2016 — James takes to Instagram the morning after Trump’s victory. “Minorities and Women in all please know that this isn’t the end, it’s just a very challenging obstacle that we will overcome!!” he wrote with Kendrick Lamar’s battle cry “Alright” as his soundtrack. “The man above will never put something in our paths that we can’t handle no matter how difficult it may feel/be! To all the youth out there I PROMISE I’ll continue to lead u guys every single day without no hesitation!!” Note the “I Promise” being in all caps also.

Nov. 10, 2016 — The Cavs visit then-President Barack Obama, marking the last time an NBA championship team has visited the White House.

Nov. 11, 2016 — James reluctantly moves forward in a world with Trump as president. “I mean, he’s our president. And no matter if you agree with it or disagree with it, he’s the guy, and we all have to figure out a way that we can make America as great as it can be,” he said. “We all have to figure out a way that we can better our country because we all know that, and we all feel it. This is the best country in the world, so we all have to do our part. It’s not about him at all. Especially not for me, and what I do.”

Dec. 7, 2016James’ decision to boycott the Trump SoHo Hotel impacts Trump’s bottom line.

Sept. 23, 2017 — The “bum” tweet heard ’round the world (and among the year’s most retweeted):

July 30 — James sits down with Don Lemon for CNN interview.

In short, James, the kid from the mud of Akron, is the started-from-the-bottom American success story that Trump has fancied as his own, since forever. And Trump’s recent tweet is evidence of James’ point about the president using sports as a divisive tactic, and as a way to skirt around issues at hand by igniting a smoke screen — this administration’s version of James’ vaunted chase-down block. And Trump really did bring Jordan into it. It felt like he couldn’t resist. Since James became a teenage celebrity shortly after the turn of the century, he and Jordan have been kindred spirits. The widely accepted greatest of all time and the supernatural kid from Ohio who might overtake the man he grew up idolizing.

And as James’ résumé has ballooned into the one-of-one spreadsheet it is, the Jordan/James debate has only intensified, and Trump’s tweet placed Jordan in an awkward position. He is a basketball god, a man whose on-court legacy needs no security detail. But among the differences in the legacies of these two titans is James’ willingness to use his platforms as spaces of change while still the league’s top dog. Among Jordan’s core commitments, as with James, is education in underserved black communities, but Jordan’s more-than-an-athlete life is often and unfairly summed up in an unsubstantiated quoteabout Republicans and sneakers.Asked what his response would be if Trump were in front of him, James kept it a hundred: “I would never sit across from him.”

During Muhammad Ali’s exile, The Champ battled the government. And so this current moment is unprecedented. Never before has a sitting president and an athlete of James’ caliber been so publicly at odds. Trump’s failed divide-and-conquer tactics do, however, make for a fascinating possibility — Jordan and James joining forces somehow.

What if, despite an ongoing, unsolvable NBA debate with them at the epicenter, their names become linked not just at the bar or barbershop in Who Is The Best Athlete arguments but also among those who most changed the world for the better? Imagine if they became teammates, after all.

The hate the Golden State Warriors received for signing DeMarcus Cousins

By Marc J. Spears                 July 26, 2018

OAKLAND, California — The NBA’s wild offseason has included DeMarcus Cousins going to the Golden State Warriors, Kawhi Leonard forcing his way off the San Antonio Spurs, DeMar DeRozan being traded by his beloved Toronto Raptors and Carmelo Anthony soon becoming a free agent. No summer news was hotter, however, than LeBron James’ decision to depart the four-time reigning Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers to join the rebuilding Los Angeles Lakers.

James went from being an NBA Finals rival to a Pacific Division rival whom the reigning NBA champion Warriors will play at least four times next season. Warriors forward Kevin Durant told The Undefeated that he “loved” his fellow superstar’s decision to start over in Los Angeles.

“I thought it was the perfect decision, the perfect move,” Durant said during an Alaska Airlines-sponsored event at Oakland International Airport. “He did everything you’re supposed to do in Cleveland, the perfect next step for him. He’s kind of breaking down the barriers of what an NBA superstar is supposed to be. You feel like you’re supposed to just play it out in one spot. I think he did a good job of giving you different chapters. And it’s going to make his book more interesting when it’s done.”

The Warriors defeated James and the Cavaliers in three of the last four Finals. Now James is joining a Lakers team that includes fellow newcomers Rajon Rondo, ex-Warriors center JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley along with returners Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Lakers have not been to the playoffs since 2013.

Durant recently visited with James in Los Angeles, where the discussion seemed to be more about life than basketball.

“Just life. Excited about what lies ahead for him, for us as men more so than basketball players. Just breaking bread and showing love,” Durant said.

It will certainly be a major challenge for James and the Lakers to win an NBA title — or the Pacific Division, for that matter — because of the rich-getting-richer Warriors. The Warriors added a fifth All-Star to their team with the surprise free-agent signing of Cousins.

Durant is not surprised at the hate coming the Warriors’ way for landing Cousins.

“It was expected. Nobody likes a great thing. Greatness is rare, it’s different, and people don’t like different, so I get it. But I think for DeMarcus I liked his approach, our approach to it, coming in, wanting it just to be about basketball, once you look at it that way, it works out perfectly,” Durant said.


Kevin Durant arrived in Las Vegas on July 25 for USA Basketball’s minicamp in an Alaska Airlines plane with two AAU boys’ and two AAU girls’ basketball teams from the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. A Durant decal with his arms outstretched was on the side of the Boeing 737-900ER jet.

The Warriors earned the most surprising headline of free agency when Cousins decided to accept a one-year, $5.3 million midlevel contract. The 6-foot-10, 265-pounder averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists for the New Orleans Pelicans last season. The four-time NBA All-Star, who suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon on Jan. 26, told The Undefeated that he had no significant offers on the table during the first day of free agency on July 1. He called Warriors general manager Bob Myers on July 2 to tell him he would be willing to sign for the midlevel exception. Durant said he was shocked when Myers called to make him aware of the possibility of Cousins coming.

“I was like, ‘No way,’ ” Durant said. “Then I went to the movies throughout the day and I got like three or four calls in the movies I had to ignore, and when I got out it said it was finalized, and I FaceTimed DeMarcus and called Bob and was so excited because I knew how important this time was for DeMarcus to find a team, find somebody that was gonna help him kind of get through this injury first then play his best basketball, so I think it’s gonna be perfect for both spots, for him and for us.”

The Warriors have five 2018 NBA All-Stars in Cousins, Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Because of Cousins’ recovery, it is uncertain when he will play for the Warriors next season, and it could take time for him to jell with the team. Durant said adding Cousins gives the Warriors a “different team” in a positive way offensively.

“It gives us somebody that can score in the low post, that can demand a double-team and you can’t switch on him,” Durant said. “That gives us a different look. I feel like a lot of teams felt like they could switch their smalls onto our bigs, but you can’t do that with DeMarcus.

“But we’re not used to playing that way either. We’re playing with a scoring big [man] down low. So it’s going to be an adjustment, but I’m looking forward to it. Should be fun, should be a new injection of energy for us.”

So how do the Warriors make it work offensively with Cousins?

“Throw him the ball when he’s got a mismatch, throw me the ball when I’ve got a mismatch. If Klay’s open for a 3, pass it. Steph in the pick-and-roll, do your thing. Draymond play defense. … We’ll figure it out,” Durant said.

Durant re-signed with the Warriors for a two-year deal paying $61.5 million, with the second year a player option. The $5 million in savings from Durant’s deal offsets the $5.3 million midlevel tax that Golden State elected to use to sign Cousins. The nine-time All-Star averaged 26.4 points last season and earned his second consecutive NBA Finals MVP award.

Durant described his short-term contract with the Warriors as “the right thing to do for me.”

This wild NBA offseason included the Spurs trading disgruntled 2014 Finals MVP Leonard and guard Danny Green to the Raptors for DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl and a first-round draft pick. DeRozan publicly expressed his displeasure to ESPN’s Chris Haynes about the Raptors trading him without a verbal heads-up.

Durant was not surprised by the trade.

“Nothing in the NBA shocks me when it comes to business,” Durant said. “I’m excited that Kawhi was able to do what he wanted to do. I know DeMar was a little upset about the move, but I think in the long run it’s going to be great for basketball for both those guys. Kawhi getting the opportunity to control his own team from the small forward position, wanting to do the stuff that he wants to do in his last few years in San Antonio, he gets to showcase that in Toronto. And I think DeMar is going to work great with Coach Pop [Gregg Popovich] and just bring out the best in him. So it worked out well for both sides, I thought.”

Durant arrived to Las Vegas on Wednesday afternoon via an Alaska Airlines plane with two AAU boys’ basketball teams and two AAU girls’ basketball teams from the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. Durant, an Alaska Airlines spokesman, surprised the L.A. kids by taking a flight with them to Oakland International Airport, where he surprised the Bay Area kids during the layover. A Durant decal with his arms outstretched was on the side of the Boeing 737-900ER jet.

The four AAU teams sported Durant’s new signature KD 11 shoe and his Nike gear while they were headed to Las Vegas to play in the Bigfoot Hoops Las Vegas Classic. Durant also played in the tournament during his youth. Durant will be taking part in USA Basketball’s minicamp on Thursday and Friday in Las Vegas, although Warriors teammates Curry and Green are not expected to attend.

Durant hoped the experience would “spark something and inspire” the teenage basketball players. His advice was to play the game for the love of it and if you are dedicated, focused and honest with yourself, the accolades will come.

“It’s surreal with everything that is going on. It’s something I can’t even script. To have all this stuff here that impacts so many up-and-coming basketball players is inspiring to me. It’s pretty cool that I get to do this. I never would take it for granted,” Durant said.

LeBron, Magic Johnson and black power in Los Angeles

By Martenzie Johnson

There has never been this magnitude of black power and control between a player and team executive in professional basketball

On July 1, LeBron James, the most highly regarded professional athlete since Michael Jordan 20 years ago, signed a four-year, $153.3 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. The son of Akron, Ohio, packed his bags for the second time in eight years to not only leave behind a Cleveland Cavaliers franchise that is a glorified junior varsity outfit without him but also eschewed contenders in Houston and Philadelphia to sign up for the Big Baller circus in Tinseltown.

The move, announced nonchalantly through his agency rather than an elaborate television special or as-told-to magazine feature, is just the latest example of James recognizing and wielding the rare power a black athlete has earned outside of the greatest of all time himself, Jordan, and James’ new boss, Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

James, 33, has lived up to the hype and unfair expectations leveled at him by cynics and naysayers since Sports Illustrated, in 2002, decided to put a high school junior on its cover. He was “overhyped,” yet he won four NBA MVP awards in five seasons and should have won more. He couldn’t make it to the Finals, yet went eight straight times. He couldn’t win the big one, yet did it three times.

James has maintained a statesmanlike demeanor in the face of the detractors, even when there’s a touch of racial undertones. There was the meandering Fox News host who told him to “shut up and dribble” because she didn’t like the cut of his jib. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, writing in Comic Sans font like a schoolchild, treated James’ 2010 departure to the Miami Heat like an overseer reacting to the Emancipation Proclamation. In 2017, an unidentified person or persons scrawled the N-word on the front gate of one of James’ homes in Los Angeles.

And unlike his transcendent contemporaries O.J. Simpson, Tiger Woods and the pre-retirement versions of Jordan and Kobe Bryant, James has been unafraid to crash headfirst into the topics of race and politics. At the 2016 ESPYS he urged all athletes to “speak up” and use their platforms to invoke change. He later campaigned for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and called the president a bum. Commenting on his vandalized home, James expanded on Kanye West’s not-safe-for-publication lines about black acceptance in white America: “No matter how much money you have, how famous you are, how much people admire you, being black in America is tough.”

But through it all, he’s broken records, won awards and achieved personal milestones to rival Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. James’ superstar status has eclipsed that of his peers, affording him the opportunity to branch out into other lucrative endeavors.

He owns Blaze Pizza, the “fastest-growing restaurant” in America, and is a part-owner of Premier League club Liverpool, an investment that has quintupled since 2011, and is the most in-demand active athlete in Hollywood outside of professional wrestler John Cena. Oh, and James signed a lifetime deal with Nike that, based on the gesture of his business manager’s finger, is believed to be for more than a billion dollars. James is the “business, man” who Jay-Z rapped about 13 years ago.

He even moves markets all by himself: After he left the Cavaliers in the summer of 2010, the team lost more than $120 million in value. After four seasons in South Beach, the Heat’s value vaulted from $364 million to $770 million. Free agency in the NBA practically comes to a halt when James decides to switch ZIP codes.

It’s no surprise, then, that the man who funneled James to Los Angeles is someone who matches his professional and business acumen. Johnson, the Hall of Famer and renowned businessman, was the lone NBA executive granted a face-to-face sit-down with James during the offseason, which, according to recent reports, was due to James viewing Johnson as a partner rather than as Johnson’s subordinate.

Johnson, one of just three black presidents of basketball operations in the league, is no stranger to power moves on and off the court. Even before ending a 13-year career in 1996 — a career that included 12 All-Star appearances, three MVP awards and five NBA titles — Johnson was flexing his business skills. In the early 1990s, Johnson bought a Pepsi bottling company in the Washington, D.C., area, at the time the largest minority-operated Pepsi franchise in America, and a Los Angeles shopping center. By the new millennium, Johnson owned and franchised fitness centers, Starbucks franchises (he sold 105 locations back to the company in 2010) and movie multiplexes in California, Ohio, Texas, Georgia and Maryland. The star of the short-lived Magic Hour talk show was also a part-owner of the Lakers for 16 years and has been a part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers since 2012.

In the history of professional basketball, there has never been this magnitude of black power and control between a player and team executive. Michael Jordan is the quintessential superstar but worked under Jerry Krause through the Chicago Bulls’ championship reign. Any other stars of the past (Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Bill Russell) were never as transcendent as Jordan and James, and they never played under a black executive like Johnson.

The partnership of LeBron and Magic may not lead to many, or any, NBA championships (the Lakers are not currently contenders with James and “the kids,” and the Golden State Warriors are still a thing), but their mere existence is a powerful, utopian example of black capitalism and economic self-sufficiency. Both men went from growing up poor — James in Akron and Johnson in Lansing, Michigan — to essentially running the entire NBA. There are only three NBA players who could claim such an accomplishment.

One is in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The other two are now in Los Angeles.