Copyright 2017 Gannett Company, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
LeBron James sat down Wednesday afternoon and took a deep, sorry sigh, the kind no type of basketball disappointment that might or might not play out over the next fortnight could possibly elicit.
The NBA Finals are upon us, yet hours before the opening tip James woke up to a reminder, as if he needed one, that being wealthy and talented in the USA doesn't isolate you from the reality of being black.
"No matter how much money you have," James said at a news conference, "no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is tough. We have got a long way to go as a society, and for us as African Americans, until we feel equal in America."
Wednesday morning, James' house in Los Angeles was vandalized and targeted for racist graffiti. That's right, in 2017 someone out there sought out another person's house, prepped themselves with a supply of paint, daubed racist graffiti across a gate and, presumably, was pleased with the work. It still happens. We hear about it more when it happens to a superstar, but it still happens.
During the season, James and his family are based in Akron, Ohio.
Once the campaign is over, the Los Angeles property is, or was, a quiet refuge, somewhere for his children to laugh, play and just be kids.
James embarks upon the third round of an epic trilogy Thursday, Game 1 at Oracle Arena, the start of a rubber match between his Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.
The teams have split the last two NBA championships, and thoughts of game night would typically consume James. But not this time.
"As I sit here on the eve of one of the greatest sporting events that we have, race and what's going on (in America) comes again," James said. "My family is safe, and that's the most important (thing).
"But it just goes to show that racism will always be a part of the world, a part of America. Hate in America, especially for African Americans, is living every day.
"I will be as focused as I can be (Thursday), but this is a situation where it just puts me back in place of what's actually more important. And basketball's not the most important thing in my life."
This time there were things he needed to say that had nothing to do with combat on the hardwood, last season, Stephen Curry or comparisons with Michael Jordan. And everything to do with his duties as a role model, a father and a citizen.
James largely kept the news of the vandalizing attack away from his team and opened it up for public consumption. Teammate Tristan Thompson didn't even know the incident had occurred until he was told about it by a reporter.
Thompson was taken aback but knew it wouldn't affect James' on-court psyche. By then James had already opened up and voiced his hope that his family's misfortune might, somehow, play a role in cultural progress.
He doesn't want it to distract his teammates, but he sure as heck wants the country to be discussing it.
"If this is going to shed a light and continue to keep the conversation going, then I'm OK with it," he said. "Obviously you see I am not my normal energetic self. It will pass. That's fine. I'm figuring it out. I'm thinking about my kids a lot."
James has regularly used his fame to speak out on social issues, most recently when the Baltimore Orioles' Adam Jones was subjected to racist taunts at Fenway Park.
In 2014, James wore a T-shirt carrying the words "I Can't Breathe", echoing the dying words of Eric Garner, a New Yorker who died in a confrontation with a police officer.
Earlier that year, he spoke out strongly against disgraced former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and was said to be prepared to lead a player boycott if Sterling had been allowed to keep his stake.
He won't stop being a spokesman, and in that regard he has the backing of even those who want to stop him from getting a fourth ring.
The NBA is, after all, a brotherhood. "When things like that occur, it's (on) all of us," Warriors small forward Andre Iguodala said. "We've all dealt with it throughout our lives."
Read More of Today's AB Headlines
Subscribe to Our Daily E-Newsletter