Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James has emerged as one of the NBA’s most high-profile voices on social and political issues.
After a grand jury decided not to bring charges against the Cleveland police officers who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014, activists urged him to take action. James said that he didn’t want to comment on the issue because he didn’t feel he was knowledgeable enough, and on Tuesday, Rice’s mother criticized James for not making a public statement about her son’s death.
While James hasn’t said much about Rice, he has spoken out on controversial issues in the past.
In James’s 2014 first-person essay in Sports Illustrated, he said he felt a duty to use his platform to help others.
I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead ... I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business ... Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.
Here’s a look at James’s history of activism throughout his NBA career.
In 2012, James and his Miami Heat teammates posed for a photo wearing hooded sweatshirts, a tribute to the hoodie Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was wearing when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman the previous month. James later posted the photo on social media alongside the hashtag #wearetrayvonmartin.
James spoke out against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling after Sterling was caught on tape making a series of racist remarks. James said that the Sterling family did not belong in the league.
“As players, we want what’s right and we don’t feel like no one in his family should be able to own the team,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “At the end of the day, this is going to be a long litigation when it comes to that. This guy who’s owned the team since the ’80s is not going to just give the team up in a day. So we understand it’s going to be long, but we want what’s right.”
Following his comments, Sterling was banned for life by NBA commissioner Adam Silver and removed from the family trust by wife Shelly Sterling.
James, teammate Kyrie Irving and several other NBA players wore shirts bearing the phrase “I Can’t Breathe” in December 2014 as a tribute to Eric Garner, a Staten Island, N.Y., man who died after being put in a chokehold by a police officer. Garner was heard on video saying “I can’t breathe” as he was choked by the officer, who was not indicted.
After a Cleveland infant was killed by gunfire in October, James took to Twitter to express his frustration.
After team practice the next day, he called for greater regulation of firearms.
“Obviously you’re not going to be able to take every gun out, I don’t know how you can do that. There’s so many around now, today,” James said, according to Ohio.com. “But if there’s some stipulations behind it or some penalties, some big time penalties or rules or regulations about carrying firearms, legal or illegal, people will second-guess themselves.”
James tweeted in response to the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, respectively.
In a tweet, James linked to a Time.com piece about Castile’s killing and said he “shed multiple tears about it all.” He called for an end to the violence and hashtagged #blacklivesmatter in his message. He then sent two more tweets hashtagging the names of Castile and Alton Sterling, another black man killed by police in Louisiana on Tuesday. The two killings reignited a national discussion about race and police violence, with James one of many athletes to speak out.
When James staged “The Decision” on ESPN to announce his choice to sign with the Miami Heat, some claimed that the NBA star was being self–important. James wrote in Sports Illustrated that he'd “obviously do things differently” if he was given the opportunity, though he still would have left Cleveland. But one positive of the event was that James used revenue from the program to raise $2.5 million for the Boys & Girls Club of America.
James made the announcement at the Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich, Conn. With a portion of the funds raised from “The Decision,” the Greenwich club was able to renovate its gym and computer center.
In March 2011, James announced that his foundation was partnering with the State Farm 26 Seconds campaign to create the Wheels for Education program in Akron, Ohio. The purpose of the program is to combat the national dropout epidemic and encourage students to graduate from high school.
The Wheels for Education program begins for students in the third grade, and students transition to the I PROMISE program when they reach the sixth grade. They remain in the I PROMISE network until they graduate high school.
The first class of the program—which totaled around 1,100 for all classes as of last summer—is set to graduate in 2021.
In 2013, James donated $1 million to his high school, St. Vincent-St. Mary, for a new gymnasium. James and his foundation also teamed up with Nike to provide all the teams at St. Vincent-St. Mary with brand new uniforms.
James considered running for president of the National Basketball Players Association in 2013, after he spoke out against the lack of revenue sharing in the league. The four-time MVP’s comments were triggered by the $525 million sale price of the Sacramento Kings earlier in the year.
James was unanimously elected the first vice president of the players association in early 2015. USA Today reported that James became interested in the position because he wanted to influence negotiations over a new television deal and collective bargaining agreement.
James's position as first vice president, his first formal role with the union, ranks him ahead of other NBPA vice presidents.
In 2015, James announced that his foundation would partner with the University of Akron and JPMorgan Chase in order to help students in the I PROMISE program attend college.
The university has agreed to award full scholarships to the students who are currently members of the program, as well as to students who join the program in the next four years.