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. Khaz

    I compare Lebron to another superstar athlete who left his team and that is Brett Favre. Lebron did do it in the absolute most painful way for Cleveland fans but Favre went to play for a division rival.
    The only racism involved was that the question was even asked. Unless he was prepped for it, I do not think that Lebron can be held accountable for his answer.

    October 1, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • BKH

      First off Green Bay didn't want Favre so you make no sense

      October 1, 2010 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. BKH

    White people got more upset because they have more loyalty. Black people expect a male figure to leave and screw over their family (or team)

    October 1, 2010 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Andy

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

    This is flat ridiculous. YOU gave back to those kids? No, LeBron, it was the people who paid for that TV special. It was the sponsors. It was the customers they were targeting. You didn't pay that, except by losing marketability, and that was unintentional, with an absolute certainty. You probably profited from the show directly, not to mention the move. I don't begrudge anyone acting in their self interest, but at least call it what it is.

    October 1, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. tigersighting

    O'Brien asked the question and he answered. Period. End of story. if you don't like his answer, too bad for you. That's what he thinks so who are any of you to say otherwise. That's the beauty of having an OPINION! And by the way, IN THE U.S. RACE IS ALMOST ALWAYS A FACTOR, ESPECIALLY IN THE STORIES THAT HIT THE MEDIA whether you want to admit it or not...but DENIAL is also something that is always a factor! Just because the man is rich does not make his observations invalid.

    October 1, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Goodbye Lebron the Racist

    Oh man, Lebron James is a big joke. He is so self-absorbed it's sickening. Yep, let's use the race card. He's learning from Jesse Jackson. Isn't Jesse the one who said that the Cavs owner's comments after the "Decsion" was like a slave owner pining over a lost slave? Sorry, but the people complaining about everyone being racists are the biggest racists themselves. It's an industry. Jesse and James, the race industry Superstars. And what about Charles? He's black and doesn't agree? Simple, Jesse and James would say he's an Uncle Tom. Good bye NBA and you stupid overpaid racist thugs.

    October 1, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. kc

    I can not BELIEVE how personally some people are taking Lebron's "decision"! 1) He was a free agent and could do as he pleased, whiich he did. I for one don't blame him. He played in Cleveland for 7 years, Cleveland had 7yrs to build a championship team around him the way the Bulls did MJ. 2) Since when does he "Owe" anyone (other than his kids) anything? 3) He donated money to a charity AND left millions on the table in order to go to Miami. 4) He's right, unfortunately judging by the vitriol being spewed against him race does seem to play a part. 5) The ONLY thing I take issue with is that he should have informed his teammates and management before going on the air, BUT this probably would not have been possisble since his decision would have been leaked. 6) His abilities and we as fans gave him a certain amount of power, which he rightfully used. I ain't mad at him!!

    October 1, 2010 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • BKH

      Kc You are stupid. Yes Lebron did have a right to go anywhere he wants, but how he did it is why people don't like him. Everyone knows Lebron did this the wrong way and he's going to pay for it one way or the other

      October 1, 2010 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • BKH

      Also he didn't leave any money on the table (the Cavs did a sign & trade) IDIOT!

      October 1, 2010 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • mbanks

      KC- I agree with you, well said.

      October 1, 2010 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • MEEENMACHINE

      Classless Pompous moves :

      1-Making an exclusive for himself, Gods gift to the world and saying its for kids charity, where he could of gotten more if he had all 3 free agents together.
      2-Saying that all the teams pursuing him, were to learn their fate from watching TV, after many went out of their way to Cleveland to persuade him to join them , with huge marketing campaigns
      3-Not even giving a courtesy call to your former employer , thanking them for trying, we fell short , I'm moving on.
      4-Saying that "We talked about it together, we reached a decision together", while sitting ALONE for the interview .
      5-Not seeking professional advice, other then his homie from the hood .
      6-Blaming it on race, when he sold more of his jerseys to white people then black.
      7-Getting Jesse involved with him , when Obama ran away from him

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

    Lebron is free to do as he wants,but going to a team that boast some of the best players in basketball tells me that he has small gonads.what the hell is so good about winning when you have all the talent on one team.
    I freaking hate espn for having an interveiw with james during play off's.ESPN can kiss my ass.

    October 1, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. dblopa

    Thank goodness I don't follow basketball... If this guy was decimated against, then give me his millions and lay it on me.

    October 1, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Peggy in Colorado

    Has anyone else noticed that Soledad O'Brian always, always asks the people she interviews if they think their issues are "race related", "racist", it would appear that Soledad O'Brian may in fact be creating issues all by herself by "playing the race card" when there is no game going on......

    October 1, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Alex

    He's a self-indulgent idiot who thinks only of himself! God, I hate that moron!

    October 1, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  11. phil

    At first I thought this story was about James being in some sort of race that had not yet been decided. Ho-hum...same old racist BS.

    October 1, 2010 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. 27shelley

    Stop hating, need some hatorade?? PLEASE get a LIFE!!!!

    October 1, 2010 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. chris

    Blacks are always complaining about a "race factor". They are the biggest bigots and create the "Race Factor". They need BET "Black Entertainment". Can you imagine if we had WET? White Entertainment. Jesse Jackson would be causing riots all over. We voted for a black president, but they still can't figure it out. They create there own problems for themselves.

    October 1, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Emerick

    Don't blame Lebron, blame the host for asking that question. He was asked the question, and he told the truth. If she would have never asked the question, the issue of race would have never entered the equation.

    October 1, 2010 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Emerick

    Someone said that BET (Black Entertainment) is racist, and if there was a White Entertainment Network, then Jesse Jackson would be acting up. The fact is that white is not a subculture, and therefore the norm is "White Entertainment". When you turn on your television, who do you see more of...whites or blacks? There are some movies where no blacks can even be found as main actors or even as background actors walking down the street. So "White Entertainment" exist without the name. If BET was named "The Open Network" that does not make it any less of a Black Entertainment Network. Simply because Martha Stewart or FOX isn't named the "White Entertainment Network", does not mean that it is not. Does that make sense?

    October 1, 2010 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13