The Black Athlete: LeBron James and American Hypocrisy

Omar Tyree

By Omar Tyree
NNPA Columnist

I was prepared this week to write an article on sports and fatherhood. Instead, I was struck by the Cleveland Cavaliers’ opening game featuring the return of Akron, Ohio’s native son, LeBron James. With hours of national sports coverage and thousands of fans who traveled downtown to enjoy a free concert from Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons – including live commentary from Charles Barkley and jokes from comedian/actor Kevin Hart – the event was overwhelming.

The city unveiled a new 10-story  LeBron James banner, featured six hours of fan experience from Nike, invited fans to game watching parties at more than 40 bars and restaurants, and unveiled a humungous, state-of-the-art scoreboard inside Quickens Loan Arena, where those with tickets to the game received free LeBron James T-shirts, a season schedule magnet for their refrigerators and 20,000 glow-in-the-dark wands to wave during the game announcements.

Of course, the game was sold out, with superstar musician and part-owner, Usher Raymond and his protégé, Justin Bieber, sitting courtside, along with filmmaker, Spike Lee, football Hall of Famer turned TV star Michael Strahan, and dozens of other national and local celebrities, all to see the homecoming of LeBron. Nike even unveiled a new commercial, where “King James” invites the entire city of Cleveland into a team huddle and prep-talk to win a championship in classic black and white film.

It felt like I was watching the NFL Super Bowl, but it was only Cleveland’s first game of the season with LeBron back, featuring his new teammates: Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Deon Waiters, Tristan Thomas and more. It was also the season premiere of new Cleveland head coach, David Blatt.

By the way, the game included NBA All-Star and Olympian Carmelo Anthony and his New York Knicks, with the second game of their new head coach Derek Fisher. And after all of the crazy build-up, LeBron James went on to have a horrible outing in a 95-90 loss. At one point in the first half, he was 1-9 shooting with four turnovers, on his way to 17 points and eight turnovers.

I felt sorry for the dude. I could only imagine how eager was to get it all over. At the end of the day, he still needed two and half hours worth of energy to play a basketball game before granting a hundred post-game interviews about the loss. Not only that, I read his wife, Savannah, finally gave birth their first baby girl to add to his excitement and exhaustion on Monday night, October 27.

But with all of the sports commentators recapping how amazing the opening night was, I couldn’t help thinking about the American hypocrisy of sports and race. I’ve been to Cleveland on several occasions and know people from the area, as well as from other cities of Ohio. And it’s the same old American story; Blacks live on one part of town in poverty, while Whites live on the other in wealth. And race relations still don’t mix like you would think they would in  2014.

So I watched the rehashed stories of White Cleveland Cavaliers fans who angrily burned LeBron James jerseys just four years ago when he left the city to take his talents to South Beach, and I chuckled at their audacity. Thousands of these same angry White fans now profess to love him again, including Cavaliers owner, Dan Gilbert, who was forced to apologize for his tantrum and public letter, which lambasted LeBron and attacked his character.

I’m sorry, folks, I know we all look at sports as the perfect meeting ground between race, gender, class, creed and culture, but it continues to astonish me how the White American populace could care less about Lebron James’ twin brother, if he wasn’t blessed with the same freakish athletic skills to play basketball. And if James had such a twin brother, would these fans bother to even buy him a drink? Not unless he brought LeBron with him.

As we inch closer to 2015, we still have millions of White Americans who would never read this sports column just because it has the word “Black” in it, identifying a people and culture that they refuse to learn anything about. And if Black athletes couldn’t dunk, shoot, rebound, or pass a basketball; run, pass, catch, intercept, kick or punt a football; or throw, catch, hit or pitch a baseball, white Americans wouldn’t care to know them either.

Omar Tyree is a New York Times bestselling author, an NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Fiction and a professional journalist @ www.OmarTyree.com.

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