On Friday, Dec. 24, Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James shared a popular Spider-Man meme comparing COVID-19 to the flu and colds. Former Laker and NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called LeBron out again in his Substack newsletter for his poor messaging. With Kareem and LeBron being two of three men (Michael Jordan being the other) that can lay claim to basketball’s GOAT crown, is this the future of their interactions?
“LeBron James is not only one of the greatest basketball players ever, he’s committed to being a leader in the African American community in the fight against inequality,” wrote Abdul-Jabbar. “But his Thursday Instagram meme…was a blow to his worthy legacy.”
Let’s provide some background and context.
Kareem’s basketball resume and accomplishments are unassailable. And if possible his lifelong civil rights activism, writing and societal contributions might be greater than that legendary hoops career. He has the necessary receipts to criticize LeBron.
LeBron is still putting the finishing touches on his basketball legacy, and his off-court work in the Black community is to be praised. He has opened a public elementary school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. Through his foundation, he has supported those most in need and has been a voice in support of criminal justice reform, civil rights and voter rights.
But there are areas where LeBron falls short in his face of the league role, and the COVID-19 pandemic is one. He was a vaccine holdout and skeptic until conducting his “own research.” He continues to advocate for personal choice when most everyone understands by now that vaccines aren’t just about protecting the individual that is vaccinated.
By posting the Spider-Man meme comparing COVID-19 to the flu and colds and the caption “Help me out folks” with the shrugging emoji, LeBron is feigning ignorance on something he supposedly researched. Kareem, rightfully so, demands that LeBron be better.
LeBron knows the power of his voice and the impact he can have on the Black community and the world at large. He is that influential. But with that type of power comes great responsibility. It is incumbent on him to not sow misinformation and discord around an issue this important.
There is no doubt LeBron is frustrated by the impact COVID-19 is having on this NBA season. Players in and out of protocols. Vaccinated players testing positive. Vaccinated, but positive asymptomatic players still being forced to quarantine.
But this is happening everywhere, not just in the NBA. This is the reality of the world in which we live. The NBA isn’t special. It’s just a subset of the larger society.
If LeBron wants to move to a place where this is no longer the threat level it is now, then he needs to follow the science. Connect with some of the world’s leading epidemiologists and virologists. Many of whom would gladly spend hours with him explaining what they do — what COVID-19 is, how viruses spread and mutate and how vaccines and boosters work.
If you want to be the leader and believe you are the face of the NBA, you need to be on the frontlines with truth and facts. The NBA, like the larger society, is dealing with a surge in COVID-19 cases and science is what needs to be driving the decision making.
LeBron can’t tacitly or directly do anything that supports conspiracy theories or anything anti-science because the impact on our community is far more deadly.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine posted an article with stats on the disproportionate way COVID-19 is impacting the Black community. As of December 2020, about 97.9 out of every 100,000 African Americans had died from COVID-19; for Latinos, the rate was 64.7 per 100,000, for whites, 46.6 per 100,000 and for Asians, 40.4 per 100,000. According to the article:
“The overrepresentation of African Americans among confirmed COVID-19 cases and number of deaths underscores the fact that the coronavirus pandemic, far from being an equalizer, is amplifying or even worsening existing social inequalities tied to race, class, and access to the health care system.”
As is always the case, we need to be better than other groups in all things. That’s just the way it is. We cannot have unfounded skepticism in our community, as the consequences are deadly. Kareem is demanding that LeBron be better, and he must.
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