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. Cat V

    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

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

    I hope you keep things moving in a positive direction LaBron and kick the naysayers to the curb. I'm genuinely thankful to you for your generous gift.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • CC

      I agree with you, we have become a society that wants to overlook the good and make the most noise about
      slight imperfections. He is a good man, and folks are blowing this moment wayyyy out!!

      October 1, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carl

      That's the first I have heard of the charity aspect.

      That's a great thing.

      However, Lebron's ego is too big for himself. This isn't about race or even jealousy. A multi year all star who has never won a championship doesn't deserve a one hour primetime special on where he will play next year.

      I respect the man for staying with his friends through all this, and he's an amazing basketball player, but the media has been on his jock since JUNIOR HIGH and apparently, he can't do wrong.

      So when people get upset, it must be racism.... because he can't do wrong....

      October 1, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. WB3

    Drop the hammer this season LB... way to follow your own star!

    October 1, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. LaBron James

    It's funny reading all these silly comments about me. Meanwhile, here I am, raking in millions weekly just off the interest in my checking account. It's good to be the king!

    October 1, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • CC

      If this is really you, LMBO...and I ain't mad.

      October 1, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. CC

    He was asked a question, answered it honestly, so whats the problem. I guess the real problem is if a man of color says that there is a different standard in how a man of color is treated in the media than a man who isn't of color, then folks get twisted, its the truth...we have not evolved as much as we want to pretend. He isn't blind because he is rich.
    And as far as thinking Mr. Barkley has it right, think again, he told his daughter when she asked what am I daddy (she has a white mother), you're black...so he's all mixed up on what's real in race relations...he's still in denial, his daughter is biracial....let Lebron just play ball and lets stop hating

    October 1, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Enuf Already

    Shame on Soledad for making an issue of race. No one ever accused his fans of loving him in spite of his race. Why should it be a factor when the real problem was his huge ego and insensitivity for his loyal fans. If he had to move on so be it but the way he did it lacked character and class.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • kb12

      Maybe the question should have been researched. She kind of put him on the spot. But, who cares. No need to be angry.

      October 1, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Brianc

    If you have ever wondered why so many people are overly tired of having the race card pushed in their face, listen to the excuses people like lebron makes....enough said.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • kb12

      Go back and read it again. Race is played out. We should all just be able to deal with each other in a civil and respectable manner. You make somewhat of a good point. But, I don't think that is his direction. Read it again. And slowly. Enough said...

      October 1, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Baghdad Sux

    I suppose if he had gone on national TV and said he was staying in Cleveland everything would be ok?????? That's ridiculous. Where and who he chose to play for is entirely up to him. Spoiled? Why? If I'm not mistaken he could have made more eslewhere. Of course race is involved...he's a black man...duh.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Chris

    "James, arguably the best basketball player in the world".... I knew this article was BS the moment I read this...

    October 1, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      Agree...he's a far cry from Jordan and never will be..I highly doubt they win in Miami..he's yet to prove his toughness during playoff time..not worthy of even wearing #23, period.

      October 1, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dave

    I think race played NO decision until now. People didn't see a black basketball player, they saw a basketball player, one who is probably the best on the court today. Not until this interview did anyone see black.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • kb12

      @Dave. Yep! This opened up an can of worms.

      October 1, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. herrsonic

    Being black is about race, no matter how much money you make.
    It would be the same if white people were enslaved in Africa, got their freedom, and are still living in Africa.
    They would only need themselves and their own mentality to keep them enslaved.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  11. M. Hovard

    A 25 year old black man can make over $14m a year plus endorsements for being able to put a ball through a hole and still have the audacity to say that race is a factor in people not liking him? If fans had something against black people I can tell you that they would not be watching the NBA. While "The Decision" was a waste of time to watch, it raised money for a good cause and because of that I didn't think it was pompous at all. But I could see how other people might see it as self-serving, and it may well have been. To say that race is a factor is completely ridiculous. He needs to get his head straight and out of the clouds.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. John

    Anytime a black American is involved it is always about race. They keep it in the forefront. Without the race card people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton havin gno soap box to stand on. The ones crying about race are the ones keeping it alive.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jen

    I use to like LeBron but now he's so full of himself and for whatever reason thinks that his thoughts should be heard at all times. His arrogance showed with his stupid ass announcement as if the NBA was dependant on where he chose to play. Of course it's rich white guys owning teams and rich white people watching the poor "UNDERPAID" black athlete..tell the freakin' whiner to come do my job, working in mental health/suicide at my pay, and we'll see how much he wants to cry. And I appreciate the elite athlete..just not the arrogant, over-inflated ego kind.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. brian

    race is probably the motivation for some people's criticism, but the overwhelming majority of criticism is motivated by lebron's ego. countless free agents switch teams every season, but none of them have one-hour prime time specials to announce it, regardless of where the advertising revenue goes. he believed he deserved a one-hour prime time announcement to declare he's moving to the heat, as if what he has to say is as important as obama's prime time addresses from the oval office. what's all the more annoying to most fans of the game is he hasn't even won a championship yet. he's been playing for 7 years, called the king for all of them, but for what? sure he has some mvp awards, but if that's all it takes then shouldn't steve nash be called the king too? in my opinion, no athlete in a 'team' sport deserves this kind of attention. and even if an athlete did, lebron is certainly not the man who deserves it. he needs to stop playing basketball to get rich, and start playing basketball to win. maybe then will he regain some fans.

    back to the point of the thread, yes race probably was a factor for some commentators. but for every event in america worth commenting, there will always be someone for whom race played a big part. that's just the fact of our existence. so the question should never be is race 'a' factor, but whether its a meaningful factor. in this instance, it is not. so perhaps, don't criticize lebron for his answer, criticize o'brien for the question.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  15. falc02

    Since race is an issue in everything maybe Favre's all black receiving crew decided to make him look bad so the black backup could get some playing time. In fact I'm sure Favre's Q factor or whatever has dropped, there must be a lot of black Favre haters out there now bc this theory suggest that all white's still support him. Mannings favorite target this year is Collie, a white guy, so Manning must also be a racist. Same with Brady and Welker or that new TE he has, just a bunch of non-blacks out to make Moss look bad. Patriots must be racist too.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
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