LeBron James On Jacob Blake Shooting: 'We Are Scared As Black People In America'

Melissa Rohlin

LeBron James is literally torn. 

"I got half of my brain locked in on the playoffs and the other half locked in on how I can help Black people become greater in America," James said after the Lakers' 135-115 win over Portland in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series. 

That was never clearer than Monday evening. 

Instead of celebrating the Lakers' blowout win, James addressed yet another shooting of a Black man in America. 

Instead of honoring Kobe Bryant Day, James was focused on another event. 

After watching video of 29-year-old Jacob Blake being shot in the back by police officers multiple times Sunday as he opened the driver's side door of a parked SUV in Kenosha, Wisconsin, James was irate at the senselessness of the violence. 

Video of the incident has gone viral, sparking protests. The shooting happened in daylight in front of Blake's three children, ages 3, 5 and 8, who were in the car. 

"If you’re sitting here and telling me that there was no way to subdue that gentleman or detain him just before the firing of guns, then you’re sitting here and lying to not only me, but you’re lying to every African American, every Black person in the community," James said in a videoconference call Monday evening. 

"...If you watch the video, there was multiple moments where if they wanted to, they could’ve tackled him," James said. "They could’ve grabbed him. You know? They could’ve done that. And why, why does it always have to get to a point where we see the guns firing."

James, a three-time NBA champion and four-time MVP, has long used his influence to fight racism and police brutality.  

In 2012, James and his Miami Heat teammates wore hooded sweatshirts after Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman. In 2014, he wore a shirt that said "I Can't Breathe" after Eric Garner died after being put in a chokehold by a police officer. He spoke out against the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police officers. He condemned the deaths of Michael Brown, Aavielle Wakefield and Ahmaud Arbery. 

And since arriving in the NBA bubble in July, he demanded the police officers who shot Breonna Taylor in Louisville in March get arrested. And he wore a T-shirt in honor of George Floyd, who was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis in May. 

After the Blake shooting, James talked about the deep fear that Black people have of police officers. 

"Quite frankly, it’s just f---ed up in our community," James said. "And I know people get tired of hearing me say it, but we are scared as Black people in America. Black men, Black women, Black kids, we are terrified. 

"You have no idea how that cop that day left the house. You don’t know if he woke up on this side of the bed, you don’t know if he woke up on the wrong side of the bed, you don’t know if he had an argument at home with his significant other, you don't know if one of his kids said something to him and he left the house steaming. Or maybe he just left the house saying that today is going to be the end for one of these Black people. That’s what it feels like. That’s what it feels like. It just hurts. It hurts."

James said Blake is one of the lucky ones. 

He's alive, albeit in critical condition.  

"Seven shots close range and he’s still alive?" James said. "That’s through the grace of God right there and my prayers goes out to that family and that community. But I got nothing nice to say about those cops at all. At all."

James said Kobe Bryant Day was supposed to play out differently. 

The Lakers wore Mamba Jerseys in honor of Bryant on the 24th day of the eighth month. Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash Jan. 26, wore jersey Nos. 24 and 8 over his 20-season career with the Lakers. 

"We’re supposed to be celebrating and rejoicing and remembering everything he’s ever done not only on the floor, but off the floor," James said. "Uplifting the game of basketball. And at the same time, I see the video today for the first time and my emotions is all over the place. And I still have a job to do because I’m here. Because I committed. And when I commit to something, I feel like I have to come through. That’s just who I am. But that does not mean that I don’t see what’s going on and I won’t say anything or continue to use my platform, continue to use my voice. And continue to uplift all of the other athletes to let them know that they can say and do what’s right and not fear what other people’s opinions are."

James wants to see real change. 

He wants police officers to have more training. 

“I don’t want to sit here and say 'I know what should be done,'" James said. "But I did see one thing about the level of time in the academy before you become a police officer. We got kids that’s going to college three and four years, six years to get their master's [degree] or they even go again, and they still didn’t even get the opportunity at the workspace, or the job that they actually want to get. But we have people going into the academy who’s becoming police officers in a year or two.”

He also spoke about access to guns.  

"I think firearms are a huge issue in America," he said. "I don’t know how you clean that up. I’m not saying that I’ve got all the answers. But guns are, they are a huge issue in America. And they’re not used for just hunting that a lot of people do for sport. Right now for Black people, right now when you’re hunting, we think you’re hunting us."

James said that deep-seeded fear starts young. 

As a child in Akron, Ohio, James said he and his friends would hide if they heard a police car. 

"When we saw a cop rolling, we went behind a brick wall and waited for it to roll out," James said. "And if we seen the cops lights come on we ran, even if we wasn’t, even if we didn’t do nothing wrong. Because we was just scared."

That feeling never went away. 

And it dominated his focus Monday amid the Lakers' first postseason appearance in seven years. 

"I can’t even enjoy a playoff win right now," James said.

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