No one puts words in LeBron James’ mouth … or on his back. The Los Angeles Lakers superstar has decided to break ranks with most of his peers by opting out of the NBA policy allowing players to replace their names with social justice messages on the back of their jerseys.
Typical of James, he obviously put some thought into a decision that will create ripples across the sport as the NBA prepares to resume its season in Orlando, Florida, at the end of the month.
This isn’t an act of defiance by LeBron James
The death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25 was one of several recent events stirring outrage across the country at a time when the NBA was in the planning stages for resuming the season that had been halted in mid-March by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the plans took shape, one of the agreements between the league and union was that players would be allowed to replace the name on the back of their jerseys with social justice messages from an approved list. LeBron James is saying thanks, but no thanks to that option.
“It’s no disrespect to the list that was handed out to all the players,” James told reporters on a video conference call. “I commend anyone who decides to put something on the back of their jersey. It’s just something that didn’t really seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal.”
That would seem to be an indication that the message James would prefer to promote isn’t on this approved list. He said he wasn’t part of the process that determined which options would be acceptable. But that didn’t bother him.
“I’m absolutely OK with that,” James said.
What messages will fans see when the NBA season resumes?
According to ESPN, there are more than two dozen words or phrases that the league and the players’ union agreed can be used on uniforms when the season resumes at Disney World in Florida at the end of the month. Among them are:
- Black Lives Matter
- Say Their Names (or Say Her Name)
- I Can’t Breathe
- Justice (or Justice Now)
- Power to the People
- Love Us
- Listen to Us
- Education Reform
Opting not to use any of the approved words and phrases doesn’t mean James won’t be speaking up about issues and causes in his own way. He has a powerful social media presence that includes 46.6 million followers from around the world on Twitter.
“Everything that I do has a purpose, has a meaning, so I don’t need to have something on the back of my jersey for people to understand my mission and know what I’m about and what I’m here to do,” he said.
National Basketball Players’ Association executive director Michele Roberts said during the week that fewer than 20 players out of the pool of about 350 have opted to stick with just their names on uniforms.
LeBron James says he always expected the season to continue
In other news from the video conference held by LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers star said it never occurred to him that the remainder of the NBA season might be called off as a result of the social justice movement that materialized after George Floyd’s death.
“Never crossed my mind that we did not need to play this beautiful game of basketball that brings so many people together, that brings happiness, that brings joy to the households, to so many families,” James said.
As long as the game is played, there will be microphones and cameras wherever James goes. Getting his message out won’t be a problem.
“Being able to use my platform, being able to use the NBA’s platform, to continue to talk about what’s going on, I will not stop until I see real change for Black America, for African-Americans, for people of color,” he said.