LeBron James, much more than an athlete

When we talk about LeBron James, we almost exclusively talk about basketball. But if there’s one thing LeBron has passed on to us during his career and will follow him after he retires, it’s his speaking out on the most important issues in society. More than an athlete, certainly.

All it took was one campaign, perfectly framed, for the term to stick in people’s minds.

How was it already? More than what ? But yes, you know when he went to France in 2018.

Ah yes, the famous trick.

More than an athlete.

The expression sticks to his skin, like a tattoo worn proudly. Like an indelible mark that will become even more embedded over time.

LeBron is, for all open debate, in the discussion of the greatest basketball players of all time. Which is already a huge accomplishment, considering the hundreds of legends who have crossed the NBA floors and tried to write their own history. There are champion titles, individual trophies, longevity, records, points, assists, dunks, jerseys, there is everything.

LeBron marked the beginning of the 21st century so much that he doesn’t even box in the basketball category anymore.

More than an athlete.

After having initially devoted the vast majority of his time to his sports affairs, LeBron understood the place he had in his society, the American society of the 2010s. He finally understood that his voice was too powerful and his reflections too good to stay locked up during dinners with friends. What was needed? It was taking risks. Damage his image, of course, but leave a mark forever. One that goes beyond league titles, individual trophies, longevity, records, points, assists, dunks, jerseys, everything.

Should we list all the actions and positions of LeBron James, in the face of systemic racism taking place in the United States?

Impossible as there are so many of them. But one thing is certain, if there is one who has wet his shirt among the superstars to be heard in the 21st century, it is him. After Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, it was he, LeBron, who took up the torch that some criticized Michael Jordan for not taking.

From 2012, it was around the Trayvon Martin affair that LeBron took his first major positions, followed by the tragic fate of Eric Garner.

First gestures, first bases laid, which will only increase with the new dimension of LeBron in America. Because basketball is never often far away, and performance helps cement your speech when you reach the top of the mountain. In 2016, when James won the mythical title against the Warriors having been led 3-1 in the final, his coronation was followed by the support of Hillary Clinton in the presidential elections of the same year. Bad luck for LBJ, it is Donald Trump who will be elected president, but it will only be a few months before LeBron publicly attacks Trump on Twitter.

Not afraid to say out loud what he thinks? Yes, not afraid to also do what others have never been able to do before him.

The creation of his school I Promise School in 2018 in his native Ohio, to allow young people to benefit from free education to which they would not have been entitled. The right-hand backhand against Laura Ingraham of Fox News, when the latter asks the basketball player to “shut up and dribble” that year as well. Black Lives Matter, worn proudly on his chest.

No, LeBron can’t just shut up and dribble.

And LeBron can’t more just shut up and dribble, given his aura, his image, what he has become.

Much more than a basketball player, more than an athlete which turns into more than a vote, a true spokesperson for African-Americans of his time. It is now to him that we turn to get his opinion, to know what he will think, what he will decide. Will he back Colin Kaepernick and his knee down in 2016? Will he scream at the assassination of George Floyd? When the NBA faces a potential strike in the Orlando bubble in 2020, who’s in the forefront while the rest of the players listen? When his house in Los Angeles is vandalized with a gigantic NOT*** painted on the gate at the entrance, how does he react publicly?

Therein lies perhaps LeBron’s greatest legacy in his career. And what, in the great counter debates with Michael Jordan, greatly differentiates him from the legend of the Bulls.

When it came to getting wet and putting himself in a dangerous position publicly in the face of sensitive political and societal issues, no one wanted to take the mic as much as LeBron on the basketball planet of the new millennium. In the tradition of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell, LeBron has become much more than a scorer, a passer, a champion or the best basketball player in history.

LeBron has become what he promoted in 2018.

More than an athlete.

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