After playing in his first basketball game in 134 days, LeBron James had no interest in talking about sports.
As he stood in front of a video camera to talk to reporters over Zoom following the Lakers' scrimmage against Dallas on Thursday, the first question he was asked was what he hoped to accomplish in that game. He responded with what he hoped to accomplish as a nation.
James began by saying he wants justice for Breonna Taylor and then used the majority of the next nearly 14 minutes of his media session to deliver eloquent and poignant comments about racism and race relations in America.
"We want the cops arrested who committed that crime," James said of Taylor. "Obviously in the state of Kentucky, what’s going down there, I know a lot of people are feeling the same. And us as the NBA, and us as the players, and me as one of the leaders of this league, I want her family to know and I want the state of Kentucky to know that we feel for it and we want justice. That’s what it’s all about. What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. And this is a wrong situation that’s going on in my eyes and in a lot of other eyes."
Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman, was shot by three Louisville police officers who were targeting two other people on March 13 in her own apartment in what's being called a botched drug-warrant execution. The shooting is under investigation by the FBI and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron. So far, none of the officers have been charged or arrested.
James questioned what needs to happen for justice to take place.
"It’s fortunate that we had the George Floyd video to see it," James said. "I mean, is that what we need to see a video of Breonna being killed to realize how bad the situation is? I don’t even believe they were at the right place, right? Cops weren’t even at the right place. They just knocked down the wrong door and started doing what they do at that point in time — and that’s just shooting away. That’s just not okay."
James, a three-time NBA champion and four-time MVP, has long been outspoken about social justice. In 2012, he helped spearhead his then-Miami Heat to wear hoodies in honor of Trayvon Martin after he was killed by George Zimmerman. Ever since then, he's poured his words, time, money and action into trying to create change — but said there hasn't been much progress.
"I never shied away from being who I am and speaking about things that not only affect me, that hit home for me, but also affect my community and affect Black people because we’ve been going through it a lot," James said. "I’ve seen a video today of a Black man inside like a Walmart or a Target or wherever trying to buy a bike for his son and the cops were called — he had a receipt and everything — and the cops were called on him and they arrested him inside the store and took him outside. It’s just heartbreaking, man. You guys don’t understand. Unless you’re a person of color, you guys don’t understand. I understand that you might feel for it. But you could never truly understand what it is to be Black in America."
James was asked how he felt about playing on a court that had the words "Black Lives Matter" painted on it at Walt Disney World in Orlando, considering that movement started after Zimmerman was acquitted and continues today.
James was quick to make a correction.
"It’s not a movement," he said. "When you’re Black, it’s not a movement. It’s a lifestyle ... This is who we are. And we understand that. And we know that for one step that someone else might have to take, or for one yard someone else may have to take, we know we got to take five more steps. We know we got to take 10 more yards to get to the end zone. I mean, we understand that. We know that.
"But it’s also what makes us as strong, it makes us as powerful, it makes us so unique and unified is that we done had so much hardships in our life — either from personal experiences or loved ones or reading history or seeing videos, Rodney King, or just being a part of just the communities that you’re in, where you’re just racially profiled from the time you come out of the womb. So, it’s not a movement. I hate to — I don’t like the word ‘movement’ because, unfortunately, in America and in society, there ain’t been no damn movement for us. There ain’t been no movement."
James, who has more than 114 million combined followers on Twitter and Instagram, knows that he's in a unique situation. He doesn't need the NBA bubble to raise awareness for social justice. He does just fine on his own. Last month, he helped found a nonprofit called More Than A Vote to help fight Black voter suppression and he recently raised $100 million to create a new media company, SpringHill Co., to give a voice to Black creators and consumers.
"I don’t wake up and say, ‘Okay, let’s use the bubble as an opportunity to speak about us as people of color,'" James said. "It’s just what I am, it’s who I am, it’s what I stand for. I got three Black kids at home. My Black wife is at home. My mother is Black, coming from a single-parent household. I’m the only child … So, nah, I didn’t need this bubble to speak about what I’m about."
But he also knows that some of the other players who are part of the 22-team restart are in a different position.
"I think the greatest thing that could come out of this is guys in this bubble, guys that may not [normally speak up] or may be scared at times at points in time to speak about things because they feel like it may affect how people view them or affect a certain situation," James said. "They say, ‘OK, I’m not LeBron, I can’t do that. He can go up there and say that. It may affect something that’s going on with my livelihood.’ But this opportunity has given guys who really, truly [want to speak an opportunity] just to be like, ‘OK, it’s not [like that.]’ Because it’s a time where we are being heard. Either if you really care or not, we’re being heard."
As for the nation as a whole, James wants to see real progress.
"For us as America to get better?" James asked. "You know, that's a question that we kind of tinker with every day. And it's something that I play with in my mind every day."
James said it starts with talking about the issues. It starts with standing up for what's right. It starts with discussing the cold, hard truth.
It starts with him doing what he did Thursday.
"People sometimes are just afraid to have a conversation," James said. "I think one of the best things in life is communication. No matter what, if you could just sit there and talk to someone, look at someone eye to eye and say how you feel, no matter if they like it or not."