LeBron James is both the face of the NBA and one of its most vocal and influential leaders in the fight against racial inequality and police brutality.
And while some players are debating whether resuming the season would distract from the Black Lives Matter movement or give it a bigger platform, Clippers guard Patrick Beverley says ultimately what the players decide to do will be determined by James.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, James has advocated for the NBA to return, but James has not commented on basketball since George Floyd was murdered on May 25. Instead he’s used his massive influence -- including a combined 112 million followers on Twitter and Instagram -- to denounce racism and call for racial equality. He also recently founded a nonprofit group named More Than A Vote to fight black voter suppression and excite minority voters across the nation.
Kyrie Irving led a conference call with about 80 NBA players on Friday in which they discussed whether they should partake in the season's resumption at Walt Disney World's ESPN Wide World of Sports complex on July 30.
Lakers' center Dwight Howard was among the players on that call who thought playing basketball would detract from the cause for social justice.
"Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction," Howard said in a statement to CNN. "...I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA Championship. But the unity of My People would be an even bigger Championship, that’s just too beautiful to pass up. What better time than now for us to be focusing on our families?"
Lakers power forward Kyle Kuzma, however, tweeted Friday that, "Some of us want to hoop and compete don’t get that twisted...."
James has not yet weighed in, but considering his stature among the players, he will undoubtedly wield a lot of influence. James was part of a conference call before Floyd died in early May that included some of the league's biggest superstars, in which they formed a united front that they wanted the season to resume, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. It's unclear if their stance has since changed.
James, 35, had led the Lakers atop the Western Conference with a record of 49-14 and was hoping to compete for his fourth championship before the season was paused March 11 to help stop the spread of the virus.
The four-time MVP, who joined the Lakers in 2018, has been very outspoken on systemic racism and racial justice. In 2012, he helped spearhead his then-Miami Heat to wear hoodies in honor of Trayvon Martin, who was killed by George Zimmerman. In 2014, he wore a T-shirt that said "I can't breathe," which were Eric Garner's final words before he died after being placed in a chokehold by a police officer in New York.
James also spoke out against the deaths of Michael Brown, Aavielle Wakefield, Ahmaud Arbery and Floyd, whose death on May 25 has caused worldwide outrage and protests. Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old black man, died after white police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis despite him saying multiple times that he couldn't breathe.
After Floyd's murder, James posted a photo on Instagram of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck next to a photo of Colin Kaepernick peacefully kneeling in protest of police brutality during the national anthem.
Wrote James: "Do you understand NOW!!??!!?? Or is it still blurred to you?? 🤦🏾♂️ #StayWoke👁"