As he begins his quest for a fourth NBA title and the debate about where he ranks is renewed, there’s one place where LeBron James’ legacy is secure.
James’ frank and thoughtful comments about racism in America on Wednesday were further proof that he has become the leading voice of his generation. Following the lead of his idol, Muhammad Ali, the four-time NBA MVP has willingly — repeatedly — used his influence to question our societal ills and challenge us to do better.
“If this is to shed a light and continue to keep the conversation going on my behalf, then I’m OK with it,” he said.
James’ comments came in response to someone spray painting a racial slur on the gate outside his home in Los Angeles, an attack that was directly personal. But he had already positioned himself as the best kind of role model, someone unafraid to confront the inequalities in our society.
Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Tom Brady, Derek Jeter – more often than not the athletes whose words and actions could make the biggest impact have run as fast as they could from the thorny questions of race, sexism and prejudice. Heaven forbid they offend someone who might buy their shoes or any of the other products they endorse.
Not James. At every opportunity, he looks beyond his bottom line to the greater good.
He has worn T-shirts and hoodies to call attention to police brutality against the black community. He posed for the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year issue wearing a very large safety pin, the post-election symbol that you are an ally to anyone being discriminated against or marginalized.
His foundation is dedicated to keeping low-income kids in his hometown of Akron in school, knowing that education is the surest way to bridge the yawning divide that is at the heart of most of this country’s troubles.
He even weighed in when Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones was subjected to racial slurs and had a bag of peanuts thrown at him at Fenway Park.
“The people that have the opportunities to have a voice and people that have an opportunity to have some play on the youth that’s coming up, we have to lead them the best way we can, and we have to live with the results,” James said then.
Where James ranks on the list of best basketball players will never be settled, no matter what happens in these NBA Finals. But for as good as he is, he’s shown himself to be an even better man, and that’s the only legacy that matters.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.