LeBron James said former President Barack Obama inspired his interest in politics.
James doesn't remember the first time he voted. And he acknowledged that when he was 18, voting was not on his mind.
"Eighteen-year-old LeBron was fresh out of high school and the only thing that was on my mind was buying my mom a house because of everything that she sacrificed for me," James said in a videoconference Thursday.
Everything changed when Obama was elected as America's first Black president in 2008.
"For us growing up in the communities we grew up in, we always looking for inspiration," James said. "We always looking at moments in time when we can be like, oh yeah, I can follow them. And to know that we grew up our whole lives going through presidents and presidents in the history books and history books and it always showed us, it always felt like every picture was never our kind.
"And for Barack to come along and to see the things that he was preaching but also stood for, and to see his queen next to him, Michelle, that was something that I was like, I need to dive all the way into that. Not on the political, because that’s not what I’m about. Just from a point of what this moment means. This moment was so much bigger than himself and him getting into the White House and he understood that. And I wanted to be a part of that. I think that’s when I really started to like really get into it on that side."
James went from having a tepid interest in politics as a youth to completely devoting himself over the last several months to trying to increase voter turnout ahead of the November presidential election. In June, he helped found the nonprofit More Than A Vote to end Black voter suppression. And he's regularly used his massive platform of more than 117 million combined followers on Twitter and Instagram to talk about the importance of voting, while also using many of his media sessions inside the NBA bubble to encourage people to get to the polls.
James leaned on Obama last week when NBA players were debating whether to continue with the postseason in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting. He talked to Obama alongside a small contingent of other players, before eventually deciding players' could effect more social change together than apart.
"He’s a great man," James said after the Lakers' Game 5 win against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday. "I wish he was still the President of the United States."
James knows voter turnout is also a problem within the NBA. According to Marc Spears of The Undefeated, only about 20 percent of eligible NBA players voted in the last election.
When James was asked why, he said it may be because of some players' early conditioning.
"I have no idea, but I think you can always go back to, like I always talk about, how Black kids and Black people in the community don’t believe that their vote matters," James said. "We grow up or we don’t think that our vote actually matters for who becomes the president. I mean, we’ve seen recounts before, we’ve seen our voice be muted, muted over our whole lives. And I believe that a lot of people, including even when you get to the NBA, you still have those same life things that’s kind of haunted you when you were younger."
James wants people to take back their power.
"For me, my goal is to change that," James said. "And to educate not only my peers, but their communities as well, to let them know that our voice is being heard. Our vote is being counted and that’s a huge push for us as a nation to take that right. And that is a right that we have."