After the Lakers' victory against the Trail Blazers on Friday, LeBron James responded to comments soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic made in a recent interview, in which he told James and other social-activist athletes to "stick to sports."
In the Lakers postgame news conference, James said he would never "shut up" about things that are wrong.
"I preach about my people, and I preach about equality," James said. "Social injustice. Racism. Systematic voter suppression. Things that go on in our community.
"Because I was a part of my community at one point and saw the things that was going on, and I know what's going on still because I have a group of 300-plus kids at my school that are going through the same thing, and they need a voice. And I'm their voice. I'm their voice, and I use my platform to continue to shed light on everything that may be going on, not only in my community, but around this country and around the world.
Ibrahimovic told Discovery+ in Sweden that James and other athletes should do what they are good at and stay out of politics.
"[James] is phenomenal at what he's doing, but I don't like when people have some kind of status, they go and do politics at the same time," Ibrahimovic said. "Do what you're good at. Do the category you do. I play football because I'm the best at playing football. I don't do politics."
James has focused his activism especially on police brutality and racial injustice. After the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin last summer, he sought advice from former President Barack Obama as NBA players considered how to respond.
Last year, ahead of the presidential election, James launched "More Than A Vote", a nonprofit aiming to fight Black voter suppression and encourage minority voter turnout across the nation. The organization brought more than 42,000 volunteers to work at various polling stations during the election. It also helped register voters across the country, increasing turnout among Black and young voters.
James has also promoted social change in other ways. His I Promise School, which opened in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, in 2018, has more than 450 students. The school provides free tuition, bicycles, transportation, breakfast and lunch for students.
"As athletes, we've been hearing this for a long time," James said. "You should [feel] privileged. You should be thankful to be able to dribble a ball or run a football or be able to do the 100-yard dash or be able to swing a baseball bat and things of that nature.
"You shouldn't be able to speak about anything else, no matter if it's right or wrong, you should just do that. But that's not the case. That's not the case anymore. As long as I'm around, it won't be the case for a long time."
James also said that if he had shut up and dribbled, a former WNBA player would not have recently acquired ownership of a professional basketball team. On Friday, the WNBA approved the sale of the Atlanta Dream to a three-member ownership group that includes Renee Montgomery, a two-time WNBA champion. She is set to become the first former player to serve as both an owner and executive of a WNBA team.
"You can just ask Renee Montgomery, if I would have shut up and just dribbled what would have happened," James said.
Ibrahimovic, still a prolific goal scorer even at age 39, joined AC Milan in December 2019 after two seasons with LA Galaxy. Last month, after a row with Inter Milan's Romelu Lukaku in the Coppa Italia quarterfinals, Ibrahimovic denied that he had made racist comments toward the Belgian forward.
"In Zlatan's world there is no place for racism," Ibrahimovic wrote on Instagram. "We are all the same race, we are all equal."
UEFA, meanwhile, is investigating whether Ibrahimovic was a victim of racial abuse himself during AC Milan's recent Europa League match against Red Star Belgrade.
James did not forget Ibrahimovic's past incidents.
"I speak from a very educated mind, so I'm kind of the wrong guy to actually go at because I do my homework," James said.
The Lakers (23-11) snapped their four-game losing streak in the Portland victory and return to action Sunday against the Warriors.