October: LeBron James Plays The Race Card To His Critics

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FEATURING (in order): J.R. Moehringer, The Daily Beast, Bethlehem Shoals, Charles Barkley, Brian Windhorst, Windhorst (x2), Scott Raab

9/1/2010: There's that old journalism rule that sunshine is the great disinfectant—which is how reporters bust their way into meetings and such all the time. In sports, I really think winning is the great disinfectant. And so I think the danger is that he'll go to Miami, they will be a super team, they'll win, their fans in South Beach will love them, and he won't ever be forced to examine his choices. If he goes to Miami and it's a big disaster, then maybe he'll be forced to take a hard look at his life. But my suspicion is that he'll go there, they'll win, and there won't really be an incentive for him to look back at the last year and do any post-mortem.

Now that we've all had a chance to digest the decision, what's the biggest story going into the season?

I think it's LeBron being booed wherever he goes. This is not just a Cleveland problem. This is a guy who had a Tiger Woods-esque fall from grace, even though he didn't really commit any sins—cardinal or venal or otherwise. His sin was that he made a marketing gaffe. He presented himself in an unflattering light. That's not much of a sin on the scale of public sins. And yet he's become a villain. I don't think we've had anything like this in sports history. We haven't had a beloved sports icon become a villain for something so aesthetic. He's despised, absolutely despised, because of a TV special. He didn't cheat on his wife, he didn't drive drunk, he didn't take drugs, he didn't test positive for PEDs, and almost overnight he went from being a loved guy to being hated. That day-in-day-out condemnation is the story.

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9/30/2010: LeBron James told CNN on Wednesday that he believes his race was a factor in the backlash to his decision to sign with the Miami Heat. "I think so, at times," he said. "It’s always, you know, a race factor." Interestingly, a poll shows that James’ negativity rating among non-blacks jumped from 24 to 44 percent after his decision; among blacks, it rose just 1 percent, from 14 to 15 percent. Asked on Thursday for additional comment, James said, "I’m not going to go back on my words. I think people are looking too into it."

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10/1/2010: What's so notable here is not that James stated the obvious (if you disagree, you were likely just waiting for him to "play the card"), but that he waited until now. As Joey Litman put it, James is a smart guy with opinions who also happens to be completely tone-deaf.

My reformulation: LeBron isn't brainwashed, he just can't figure out that whole timing thing. Bringing out this side of the discussion at this point makes it into an afterthought, and yes, cheapens the entire discourse of racial discrimination. If James really felt strongly about the role race played in the public outcry against him, he could have said so at any number of other crucial junctures. Instead, it's like a last resort. Once again, LeBron daring for once to try the unfamiliar is canceled out by poor execution.

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10/1/2010: Sometimes you just say he’s making bad decisions and you’re like okay, he’s gonna get it together. Then he makes more bad decisions. The thing that’s interesting about LeBron ... Magic, Michael, and myself, we said we wouldn’t have did it. That’s not a criticism. We were asked a question. I don’t want to play with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, or Michael, I want to beat them. That’s strictly basketball. The only criticism I’ve heard about LeBron and it was my biggest criticism, that decision thing was just stupid. It was stupid.

The second thing when they all came out there dancing around on stage, that was silly. That’s the only thing I’ve heard LeBron get criticized about. That has nothing to do with race. That’s what makes this last thing so stupid. That’s stupid. The only criticism of LeBron has been the decision and the one hour of our life that we can’t have back.

And ESPN, oh my God. Oh my God. To go down to training camp and report everyday is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen. I’m watching yesterday and one of the guys actually said LeBron looked fierce in practice. I’m like fierce in practice? What the hell does that mean? He was fierce in the second day of training camp. You’re like come on man, he really didn’t say that did he. This summer with LeBron and all the stuff that went on is like a bad movie. You just can’t make this stuff up.

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10/21/2010: James took the unusual step of retweeting some hateful Twitter messages to his 900,000 followers on Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, the Miami Heat star said he did it to show people what he deals with on a daily basis.

James published three negative tweets on his feed including one that was racially charged.

"I just want you guys to see it also," James said after the Heat's practice Wednesday afternoon. "To see what type of words that are said toward me and towards us as professional athletes. Everybody thinks it is a bed of roses and it's not."

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10/21/2010: There's something that you might want to understand about LeBron James as he gets ready to start the season. It's something he may deny publicly but which goes right to the heart of what you can expect to see out of him on a nightly basis.

A part of James is hurting. And it is changing him. And it is driving him like he's never been driven before.

At the core, that is why this week James shared some of the hateful and racist tweets he's been getting. He wants people to know that he reads and hears the still-massive volume of venom. And he wants them to know he's going to feed on that energy.

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10/21/2010: I'd like to think that my own hatred of LeBron James is free of racism's taint, but that's bullshit. At some level, it has to be a factor, because we are products of an America where race will always be a factor. It is an undeniable factor in the relationships between white fans — and sportswriters — and athletes of color. Sometimes, it is a huge factor.

All I can say is that, thanks to LeBron, I have much richer reasons to hate him than mere racism. Some of my favorite folks are African-American, but none of them has broken my heart and shit on my hometown. Etta James came close — but that's a different story.

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