Last night, NBA giant and Cleveland native LeBron James passed Alex English on the All-Star scoring list, taking 17th place and reaching a major milestone. The scoring title was major news for some sports fans on Twitter, but for another heartbroken set, LeBron’s influence was being called on in a completely different way.
Black Lives Matter activists and fans urged LeBron to sit out of Monday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns, after a Cleveland jury’s decision not to indict any police officers in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. LeBron rose to fame and earned his basketball chops in a Cleveland park, while Tamir was gunned down playing outside a Cleveland recreation center. It doesn’t add up, and it’s painful.
Sometimes it seems that Black men are only valued for superhuman athleticism on the football field or the basketball court. It’s also cool to throw up a Roc sign at the occasional Jay Z concert, and wait in high anticipation for Kanye West‘s SWISH album. But before they can even become NBA draft picks, Black boys need to have the simple right to play in a park and wear hoodies. They need to be able to live and be children. Instead, we have seen 12-year-old Tamir, 17-year-old Jordan Davis, and 17-year-old Trayvon Martin killed. As their parents look on in anguish, they have to sit in court rooms to hear all of the reasons why their children caused their own deaths – being menacing, threatening, and above all, brown.
NBA stars are also heroes to the kids who stand in line waiting to buy the latest pair of Jordans, or stay perfecting dunks like LeBron in neighborhood parks, hoping to one day live up to these iconic legends. Thankfully, athletes have made public stances against injustice for decades, and if there was ever a moment for one of the greatest NBA athletes to make a stand against a baby being slaughtered in his native Cleveland, this is it.
Although LeBron did suit up for Monday night’s game, the opportunities to take a public stance are endless. The NBA All-Star has made his views against recent acts of social injustice very known throughout his career. Last year, he wore an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt in honor of Eric Garner, who was choked to death in Staten Island, NY, while NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo was not indicted.
The father of two young sons shared an Instagram post in memory of slain teens Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, writing: “As a society how do we do better and stop things like this happening time after time!! I’m so sorry to these families.”
So far, LeBron has made no plans to sit out Tuesday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets, or the next Cavs home game on Saturday. He hasn’t commented on the Tamir Rice decision on social media. We’ll take the silence as his effort to figure out his next move. Whatever he decides, we hope he’ll speak volumes where his hometown (and young fans) really need him most.