October 1st, 2010
05:08 PM ET

LeBron James, race and ‘The Decision’

Did you think the hype and fury over NBA superstar LeBron James’ announcement to switch teams was a thing of the past? Think again.

A comment James made during a recent interview with CNN has sparked a fresh round of controversy and recrimination.

First, a quick recap for those who may have somehow missed what happened this summer.

James, arguably the best basketball player in the world, using his rights as a free agent, decided to sign with the Miami Heat rather than continue with the Cleveland Cavaliers. James grew up in nearby Akron, Ohio, and played with the Cavaliers for seven years after coming directly out of high school.

James made the announcement July 8 during a nationally televised special – dubbed “The Decision” – on ESPN. The TV special was roundly criticized in the aftermath and the widely popular James was cast by fans and media as something of a villain – an egotistical athlete more concerned with his brand and marketability than loyalty to his hometown.

James discussed "The Decision” with CNN’s Soledad O’ Brien and an answer to one of her questions has renewed discussion about it.

O’Brien asked James if race played a role in the backlash. “I think so, at times,” James said. “There’s always a race factor.

Maverick Carter, James’ childhood friend and the man who heads his marketing and branding operations, also talked with O’Brien and agreed with James’ assessment.

“It definitely played a role in some of the stuff that came out in the media, things that were written, for sure,” he said.

However, Carter also said, “The execution could have been a little bit better and I take some of the blame for that.”

Overshadowed in the backlash, Carter and James said, was the fact that "The Decision” raised $3 million for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. James donated all the advertising revenue from the TV special to the charity.

“If I have to take heat to give back to kids, I would do it the same way every single time,” James said.

The media world picked up on James’ comments about race during the O’Brien interview. Here’s a quick round-up of some reaction:

“It's like watching a movie. Just when you think it couldn't get any stupider, it gets more stupid.” (Charles Barkley, during an interview with WIP)

“He didn't claim to be a victim of racial persecution, he didn't call for a racial revolution. He simply responded to a question and noted that race is a factor at times. It's a simple, fundamental truth in our society and, in particular, the NBA. As long as the NBA features predominantly black athletes playing for predominantly white owners who are selling their sport to predominantly white ticket buyers, there will be a race factor. It's an ongoing quandary, usually left unsaid.” (J.A. Adande, ESPN.com)

"It's easier to dismiss criticism as the product of a biased mind rather than flirt with the idea that there's something to it. Which isn't to say there aren't some people relying on the basest stereotypes to fuel their hatred of LeBron James. But chalking it all up to that, instead of anything he might have done to provoke censure, is just going to make him more hated. More proof that LeBron James just doesn't get it." (Barry Petchesky, Deadspin)

“With his self-aggrandizing, narcissistic one-hour TV exit – 'The Decision' – LeBron James ruined his public image, not racism. LeBron inflicted more damage to his image Wednesday night when he told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien that race is a factor in the public backlash against him since 'The Decision.' ” (Jason Whitlock, FoxSports)

“I gotta admit I’m a huge Lebron fan ever since his high school days in Akron, but without ANY doubt he shouldn’t have even thought of mentioning race. That's something he should’ve just bs’d with his closest friends about, not with the national media.” (Red Army in a comment on NBA.com)

“Yea, LeBron @KingJames. Everyone hates you because we're all racist. But I'm glad to hear that 'Spoiled Brats' are a race now.” (Theo Madla on Twitter)

What do you think? Did race play a role in the backlash to James’ announcement? Was James simply answering a question? Is it all hype? Let us know in the comments section below.

Watch a trailer from CNN's Soledad O'Brien's next documentary, "Almighty Debt, A Black in America Special."

soundoff (280 Responses)
  1. Maxx

    Personally – I don't really care – most of the negativity taking place in the US right now is because of the President being an African-American – if the heroes and voices of a political party (a recovering alcoholic, a pill popping loudmouth and an ex-governor who quit her job mid-term) were African-American I doubt they would carry the same labels and adoration they have. LeBron or any celebrity is not a hero to me – they are not role models – yes they are gifted and spoiled but since I do not have a financial interest nor a vested emotional interest in them I do not care one bit.

    October 3, 2010 at 3:03 am | Report abuse |
  2. Ron

    Why is this even a story. If Brett Favre were African American he would be demonized to the end of the Earth. An old prima-donna holding up the development of a young quarterback and holding his team hostage until right before training camp starts. Lebron James and Albert Haynesworth are getting a raw deal when compared to Brett Favre. African American professional athletes are usually not given the benefit of the doubt. Lebron raised $3 million dollars for young people; why is that always lost when all he did was utilize the resources available in the 21st century to announce his move from one team to another and make millions of dollars for a good cause. Now that sounds like a conspiracy from an evil person. Lebron is an impressive young man; give him the same breaks Brett Favre gets.

    October 3, 2010 at 3:21 am | Report abuse |
  3. T-2000

    Ron, Brett Favre is like God to white people thats why.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  4. T-2000

    The only person white people love more than Brett Favre is Lindsay Lohan. I think she secretly rules the world. Knowbody should get all the 2nd chances she has gotten.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  5. Air Boddie 23

    A close 2nd would be Miley Cyrus. White People LOVE Miley Cyrus!! Did u see the Saturday Night Live skit they did about her last night? Man I had to record that one and keep it because it was that funny!

    October 3, 2010 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  6. OJ Simpson

    Some of these comments are just sad. A lot of white people on here are saying they are not racist because they voted for Obama. They are saying that black people should be happy that they did that, as if they were doing us a favor. If u voted for Obama to prove to black people you are not racist then that right there proves u are racist! IF U DONT LIKE OBAMA U SHOULDNT HAVE VOTED FOR HIM! SIMPLE AS THAT.

    October 3, 2010 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  7. T-2000

    I think the Heat will beat the Lakers in The NBA Finals next June. Which sucks since I hate both teams and want Chicago to win it all. Also, the Cubs are gonna win the World Series next year! Yeah I said it.

    October 3, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Shooter McGavin

    Hi everybody. Im back! And its payback time LeBron.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Shooter McGavin


    October 4, 2010 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
  10. Shooter McGavin

    LeBron is my boy.

    October 4, 2010 at 7:21 am | Report abuse |
  11. Kathy

    Race doesn't have anything to do with the whole LeBron situation. It's all about the disrespectful way in which he left the Cavs. Who cares whether he wanted to move on to another team. The point is it was a nasty, self-centered, immature way to leave the team who supported him from high school and made him their King. As for his excuse for one hour circus show to make his announcement being done to raise money for his charity, I think it was an afterthought to handle the backlash from people across the country. If he was all about just helping his charity, he could and should have made his donation without all the media hype! It was just another ploy to get attention for himself. Good deeds by anyone should be done without any expectation of publicity and public praise and adoration. Its like standing on the corner praying aloud so everyone can see what a good Christian you are. Yes, he has been blessed with a talent for basketball, now if he would just grow up emotionally. And why is it everyone always bring up the race issue? Btw, if he was more humble and mature and less of an egomaniac, maybe he would have been able to get his emotions under control to have an exemplary performance in the finals. The Mavs won fair and square and all his big talk about winning the ring and the Heat being the champions is all a moot point.

    June 13, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
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