Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been critical of LeBron James of late. The Hall of Famer has referred to acts that he considers to be “embarrassing” and “beneath him,” given who James is within the game and society as a whole. In an appearance on SiriusXM NBA Radio on Monday, Abdul-Jabbar offered an apology.
“It wasn’t my intention to criticize LeBron in any way. He has done so much for the Black community as well as for the game of basketball,” said Abdul-Jabbar. “We may not always agree, but I want to wholeheartedly apologize to LeBron and make it clear to him that I have tremendous respect for him. And if he can accept that, I’ll be very happy.”
Abdul-Jabbar was critical of LeBron’s COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and the Spider-Man meme conflating the cold, flu, and COVID.
LeBron has done a lot of good for the Black community. But he’s not above reproach. If you’re going to be the leading athlete activist, which LeBron very much believes he is and carries himself as, you are held to a higher standard.
Abdul-Jabbar was born in 1947 and started his journey as an athlete activist during the civil rights movement. He views the role of athlete activist extremely seriously. The tradition of the athlete activist is rich and he likely wants LeBron to utilize his tremendous influence to benefit as many people as possible.
The problem of course is that Kareem’s wishes and whatever LeBron’s intent is don’t align. Older generations often come into conflict with the younger generation. Both may want to do good, but they have different views on what that means and how best to get there.
“Some of the great things that he’s done, he’s standing on both sides of the fence almost, you know? It makes it hard for me to accept that when he’s committed himself to a different take on everything,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “It’s hard to figure out where he’s standing. You’ve got to check him out every time.”
Kareem and LeBron have different worldviews. Abdul-Jabbar is 74 and has an estimated net worth of about $20 million. LeBron has earned over $1 billion in his career and counting. That matters.
Amassing that amount of wealth makes you part of the establishment more than you might like.
Both men have done tremendous work on behalf of the Black community, but nobody wins when the family feuds.
Kareem has the right to criticize whoever and whatever he wants. Perhaps he could save some of the critiques for a personal conversation? Public health issues like the COVID-19 pandemic are fine for a public forum.
Getting on LeBron for dancing or anything akin to respectability politics would be best done in private. We don’t want disingenuous people who don’t have our community’s best interest in mind, to use Kareem’s critique of LeBron as a proxy in a culture war.
In an ideal world these two legends would spend some time together and get to know each other. More fruitful and beneficial conversations would likely occur if both men came from a place of understanding the other.