LOS ANGELES — This much is certain: it will take a lot more than fiery commentary from a cable news host to silence LeBron James.
The four-time MVP addressed reporters at NBA All-Star practice Saturday, two days after Laura Ingraham of Fox News said that James should “shut up and dribble” in response to his criticism of President Donald Trump. James, who struck an inspirational pose with a “Strive for Greatness” hat and a t-shirt that read “Victory Never Stops,” issued a lengthy rebuttal from the podium as his two sons looked on.
“We will definitely not shut up and dribble,” James said. “I will definitely not do that. I mean too much to society, I mean too much to the youth, I mean too much to so many kids that feel like they don’t have a way out. They need someone to help lead them out of the situation they’re in.”
James pushed back directly on Ingraham’s premise—that athletes shouldn’t address political issues—and he took care to point out a factual inaccuracy in her commentary. Ingraham stated that James had “[left] high school a year early” to enter the NBA. James, of course, skipped college to become the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft after spending four years at St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, OH.
“I wish she did a little bit more fact-checking because I actually did finish high school and didn’t leave early,” he said. “I graduated high school. To be an African-American kid who grew up in the inner city with a single-parent mother and not being financially stable. To make it where I’ve made it today, I think I’ve defeated the odds and I want every kid to know that. I want the youth to know they can do it as well. That’s why I will not just shut up and dribble.”
The Cavaliers’ forward, who was the leading vote-getter for Sunday’s All-Star Game, couldn’t resist a few additional jabs at Ingraham.
“I had no idea who she is, or what she does,” he said. “She won, in that case, because now I know who she is. … I would have had a little more respect for her if she actually wrote those words. She probably said it right off the teleprompter. But that’s OK.”
James initially drew Ingraham’s ire with comments critical of Trump in an “Uninterrupted” video with Warriors forward Kevin Durant and ESPN host Cari Champion. In the video, James said, “The number one job in America, the appointed person is someone who doesn’t understand the people. And really [doesn’t] give a f--- about the people.”
On her show, “The Ingraham Angle,” Ingraham suggested that James might be a “cautionary tale” because of his educational background, adding that it was “unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million dollars a year to bounce a ball."
NBA commissioner Adam Silver told reporters Saturday during his annual state of the union press conference that he felt Ingraham’s comments about James’s education were “incredibly unfair” given the unique financial opportunities available to top-ranked teenage basketball stars. Silver added that he senses an “enormous amount of racial tension [and an] enormous amount of social injustice” in the country, noting that NBA players have played a leading role in race relations since the days of Bill Russell in the 1960s.
“You were the [1963 All-Star Game] MVP and then of course the Celtics went on to win a championship that year,” Silver said to Russell, who attended the press conference. “Even more importantly, then, in the summer of 1963, you stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when Dr. [Martin Luther] King gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. To me, there is this direct through-line from players like Bill Russell, roughly 55 years ago, to LeBron and Kevin Durant speaking out today on issues that are important to them.”
While Durant told USA Today Sports that he believed Ingraham’s comments were “racist,” James stopped short of reaching the same conclusion Saturday.
“Race is a part of our country, we know that,” James said. “I think the engine that she sits behind doesn’t have a great rap sheet when it comes to race in our country, and things of that nature. There have been many people that are not African-American that have spoken upon the same issues I spoke upon, and [Ingraham] didn’t say anything to them. … I don’t think we’re sitting here saying, ‘Oh, she’s racist.’ Or, ‘That’s racial tension. I’m surprised.’ We know what’s going on, and I’m just trying to shed a greater light and a positive light on the bad aura or the energy that some of the people are trying to give to the people of America.”
In a statement issued by Fox News on Sunday, Ingraham denied that her comments about James had any "racial intent" and noted that she has been telling celebrities and entertainers to "Shut up and..." stay out of political commentary "for more than 15 years."
Even so, Durant told reporters Saturday that he believes it is “ignorant” to paint NBA players as one-dimensional athletes.”
“We're advancing as humans and as people,” he said. “You don't just pigeonhole anybody. We've all got our own opinions, and we should voice them. … It's not just me. I feel like everybody in this room has a voice, and it's getting louder and louder every day. We've got to speak what we believe in. We've got to speak our truths and we’ve got to keep it real out here.”
In recent years, James has made headlines for calling President Trump a “bum” on Twitter and for his comments regarding police brutality and racist graffiti at his California home. To explain his willingness to speak out on race relations and other controversial topics, James pointed to professional athletes from the past, like Russell, that have inspired him.
“If it’s for the greater good, I don’t mind being a symbol,” he said. “I don’t sit up here trying to get a reward. I don’t think Muhammad Ali sat up here trying to get a reward. I don’t think Jim Brown or Bill Russell or Jackie Robinson tried to sit up here and get rewarded for it. It’s bigger than us.”
In closing his press conference, James again spoke directly on one of the country’s hottest topics—gun control—while responding to a recent school shooting in Florida that left 17 people dead.
“We’ve seen these schools and these tragedies happen in America and there’s been no change to gun control,” he said. “We have to do something about it because we’re all sending our kids to school, right? … We have a kid who was legally not able to go get a beer at a bar, but could go buy an AR-15? It doesn’t make sense. … How is it possible that we can have minors to go buy a gun? I don’t have the answer to it. … There’s been way too many [tragedies] because of guns.”