Is it sad that I’m not even surprised anymore when Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James injects race into the conversation?
James’ latest foray into politicizing sports somehow involved Duke’s freshman phenom Zion Williamson, who is universally considered to be the No. 1 overall pick of the upcoming NBA Draft.
Lots of eyebrows were raised when James, alongside close friend and agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, were spotted watching Williamson’s Duke team beat Virginia 81-71 in a clash of top-5 teams.
Now, to be fair, there’s nothing inherently suspicious about NBA stars going to see the latest up-and-coming phenom play amateur basketball. NBA legends like Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson came out to watch James play in high school, ESPN reported.
But both James and Paul are major players in the absolutely ugly situation plaguing the New Orleans Pelicans. Many feel that Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis made a public trade demand at the behest of James and Paul. A deal never came to fruition by the trade deadline, so now Davis must awkwardly play out the rest of the season in front of fans with teammates he clearly wants nothing to do with.
The part that people are especially upset over is the fact that Paul is Davis’ agent, leading many to speculate that Klutch Sports is conspiring to get superstar players to flank James in Los Angeles.
James’ and Paul’s presence at the Duke game naturally led many to believe that Klutch Sports was trying to recruit Williamson. Conspiracy theorists obviously feel that this could be an avenue for Williamson to one day play alongside James.
The backlash and suspicions were swift, which created the perfect fodder for ESPN to get James to open up and provide some choice quotes.
“It was a game between the (top) teams in the country,” James told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
James had taken a jet from Philadelphia the day before the Lakers were blown out by the 76ers.
“Coach (Mike Krzyzewski) is my guy. And the flight was 35 minutes. So, it was easy. It was easy to be able to do it,” he said. “It was my first time seeing Duke play, I think, in my life. I want to go to Cameron (Indoor Stadium) someday, too, though.”
James also took the time to laud Williamson and his Duke team. In particular, James also commiserated with the unprecedented coverage Williamson was getting straight out of high school, something he could obviously relate to. So far, so good.
That’s when James responded to the notion that he and Paul were there for a recruiting trip and things completely went awry.
“A recruiting trip? I didn’t talk to anybody,” James said to ESPN. “They’re only saying that because it’s Rich. When Shaq came to see me play in high school, when A.I. came to see me play in high school, they weren’t saying it was a recruiting trip then. But because it’s Rich Paul and LeBron, now it’s a recruitment trip.”
“Now Rich is a threat to everybody, and they look at it and they want to keep trying to jab my agent and jab my friend. And what is he doing that’s wrong? They don’t say that about no other agent when other guys go see (other players). They don’t say that about no other agent, but my guy because he’s a threat.
“And he’s African-American, too. Throw that in there,” he added.
Wait. What? How can James blame anyone for their suspicions surrounding Paul and Klutch Sports when they literally tried to strong-arm a superstar client off his team so he could play with James? That’s obnoxious enough as it is.
But to throw in the race card at the end there? What does that have to do with anything? That’s utterly the lowest-hanging fruit possible and something that should be beneath a person with the stature of James.
To be clear, I’m not denigrating LeBron James the basketball player. His countless accomplishments speak for themselves. But there are reasons why so many people still put Michael Jordan above James in discussions about the NBA’s greatest player of all-time.
And one of the bigger reasons is that Jordan never resorted to the race cards that James so frequently, and inexplicably, does.
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