When a second voice, one whom should have known better as an athlete himself, joined American conservative Fox News television host Laura Ingraham to admonish LeBron James to shut up and dribble rather than engage in the politics of the moment, it was obvious to the fans that the consequences were not going to be different because the Los Angeles Lakers star is never one to back down.
As reported on Thursday, veteran forward for AC Milan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the latest to onload on James. In an interview he granted to UEFA and Discovery+ Sweden, a copy of which was transcribed for English readers, Ibrahimovic railed off about James’ political and social activism in words that mirrored Ingraham’s shot at James last year.
“Do what you’re good at. Do the category that you do,” Ibrahimovic had said. “I play football because I’m the best at playing football, I’m no politician. If I’d been a politician, I would be doing politics. This is the first mistake famous people do when they become famous and come into a certain status. For me it is better to avoid certain topics and do what you’re best at doing, because otherwise it doesn’t look good.”
The 36-year-old four-time MVP waited until Friday night after the Lakers’ 102-93 victory over the Portland Trailblazers to respond. The win was the first for James’s team in more than a week. And, it was not long before the focus of the post-game news conference turned to James’ activism and another high profile name trying to shush him.
The 16-time All-Star was clearly having none of it. James took his time to reiterate that he will never stop speaking out about injustice while pointing to past results like his I Promise School for underprivileged kids and helping Renee Montgomery buy the Atlanta Dream.
“At the end of the day, I will never shut up about things that are wrong. I preach about my people and I preach about equality, social justice, racism, voter suppression, things that go on in our community because I was a part of my community at one point and saw the things that were going on, and I know what’s still going on because I have a group of 300-plus kids at my school that are going through the same thing and they need a voice.
“I’m their voice and I use my platform to continue to shed light on everything that might be going on, not only in my community but in this country and around the world.
“There’s no way I would ever just stick to sports, because I understand this platform and how powerful my voice is. He can just ask Renee Montgomery if I would have shut up and just dribbled, just seeing that beautiful Black woman today be part of a group — she’s part of the ownership group with the Atlanta Dream.”
He concluded by pointedly calling out Ibrahimovic’s own past statements that could be construed as not sticking to sports on their own merit: “It’s funny he’d say that because I believe in 2018 he was the same guy who said, when he was back in Sweden, talking about the same things, because his last name wasn’t a certain last name, that he felt like it was racism going on when he was out on the pitch.
“Right? He did say that, right? I thought he said that. I speak from a very educated mind. I’m kinda the wrong guy to actually go at, because I do my homework.”
James was referring to a report in 2018, where Ibrahimovic complained of the media’s “undercover racism” over his Muslim background.
In his own words: “What does the Swedish media do? They defend me, or do they jump on and attack me? They still attack me, because they cannot accept that I am Ibrahimovic.
“If another player would do same mistake I do, they would defend him. But when it comes to me, they don’t defend me. This is about racism. This is about racism. I don’t say there is racism, but I say there is undercover racism.
“This exists, I am 100 percent sure, because I am not Andersson or Svensson. If I would be that, trust me, they would defend me even if I would rob a bank. They would defend me, I tell you.”
The bottom line is that this was a wrong shot to take by Ibrahimovic and an awful target to aim that clearly ill-conceived shot at.
Even if an American athlete’s broad activism and a Swedish player’s discussion of his personal experience are not exactly similar to compare fairly, James does have a point.
Will this be the end of the back and forth?