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. LmD

    I'm not gonna play for you anymore cause I have'nt won a ring yet! Waaaah!!

    October 1, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Playgurl89

    I love LeBron James and honestly I think his tv special wasn't uncalled for. Like they said he raised 3 million for charity. What is wrong with that?! He is a super star, why not have a one hour special for THE biggest decision in NBA history ever. AND why not give all the proceeds to the Boys & Girls foundation? Like Get over it people. He's amazing and I will love him wherever he goes! Go LeBron and keep shutting all these people up! And this whole race thing I think that was kind of uncalled for. I HATE when people pull that. It's like ok really?! I mean yes there is still racism in America but if we keep on dwelling on it it'll still be here. I'm not saying it'll disappear over night but let's move on.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. B=Dog

    LeBron James did not do ANYTHING for these kids. He was on a show to inflate his ago about his stupid decision and spent an hour talking about what should have taken 30 seconds. ESPN gave THEIR OWN advertising money to the boys and girls club.

    LeBron James needs to do what best for LeBron James.... People who talk about themselves in the 3rd person are HUGE wet flapping D-Bags!!!

    And can we please get over this KING JAMES BS?? Go win a ring, or 3, or 5 and then come back and we can talk about the "KING" part.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. iShane

    all this over a guy that dribbles a ball....our priorities had a funeral. race related, no, dumb related.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Sandy

    If you that think race should not have been brought up then you should be asking Soledad O'Brien why SHE brought it up. She asked the question.....

    October 1, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Rich

    I am sure LeBron has many ways to raise 3 million dollars for the kids. Did he have to do that? No. Just admit it, it was poor taste.

    As for the uproar, it was about how he took the easy way out, how is that a race issue?

    October 1, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. This means nothing.


    October 1, 2010 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dino

    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." Of course there is James, race is a factor any time you factor in an African American millionare. They forgot to elaborate how racism is involved in this controversy. Who cares about facts lets just bring race into any conversation involving a person of color. race race race race race.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ricardo101

    He shoul play in Africa and not worry about the race factor.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jesse

    Lebron is just another uneducated athlete who thinks because he can play ball he can open his mouth and use the sport as a pulpit to spew ridiculous comments like this. He barely graduated high school people, and now we're taking what he says seriously? Not this guy. Plus, he plays in a league where 90-percent of the players are black. A white guy wouldn't even have a chance to be in a situation to make this comment. Lebron, like all of us, is flawed. Some of his flaws just happen to be ignorance, vanity and jealousy....of Michael Jordan and possibly Larrk Bird (ouch!) So, until Lebron goes and gets his University of Phoenix on-line degree, lets not pay him any attention. (I do not have anything against the U of P... Just couldn't think of any other on-line schools)

    October 1, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Brianc

    The reason why there is such a heated debate on here is because more and more and more people are tired of hearing about the race card and race, and realizing it's more of a crutch and excuse than anything else!

    October 1, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. BigD

    It wasn't a race issue until Lebron and Jessie made it one. I could care less what color he is. If his contract was up, he has the right to leave. Letting his former team know, via a press conference, is the reason he is still a child. He should have manned up and told them from the beginning. So it's not a race issue. It is a lack of maturity.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  13. C Student

    If Larry Bird had done this in his prime, he would have gotten the same reaction.

    October 1, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. nay99

    I think a lot of this is hard for people to accept because these are rich and spoiled athletes. However, Lebron is right, race plays a part in everything whether we notice or admit it. Of course, anyone would have been criticized for "the decision" which was a bad decision, but it's the TONE that the criticism takes that is racist. For another good article on the Amazing race card and mr. James please see http://www.lowpostnews.com/heat/the-amazing-race-card/

    October 1, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. NorCalMojo

    Awwwwwwwwwww, poor little millionaire, all those mean'ol white racists want to give him millions of dollars.

    Someone get him a hanky.

    October 1, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
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