LeBron James was born on December 30, 1984 in Akron, Ohio, to 16-year-old Gloria Marie James. His father, Anthony McClelland, had an extensive criminal record and was not involved in the boy’s life. James attended St. Vincent–St. Mary High School, an exclusive, mostly white, Catholic school in Akron where he became a nationally acclaimed basketball player. During an August 2018 appearance on the HBO talk show The Shop, James recounted that when he first enrolled at that school, he viewed white people with suspicion and disdain:
“I was like, I’m not fu**ing with white people. Cuz I was so institutionalized, growing up in the hood, it was like they [whites] don’t fu** with us, they don’t want us to succeed, the hierarchy [raising his hand high to indicate that whites were at a higher socioeconomic level than blacks], and then we’re here [lowers his hand to indicate the lower status of blacks], like, matter of fact we underneath this chair. So I’m going, like, I’m going to this school to play ball, and that’s it. I don’t want nothing to do with white people, I don’t believe that they want anything to do with [me]. Me and my boys we going to high school together and we here to hoop. So that was my, like, initial, like, thoughts and my initial shock to, like, white America when I was 14 years old, for the first time in my life.”
After completing high school, James was selected by the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers as the first overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft. He went on to become one of the greatest professional basketball players of all time with the Cavaliers, the Miami Heat, and the Los Angeles Lakers. James also has been outspoken about his leftwing political and social views.
To protest a highly publicized February 2012 altercation in which a white Hispanic man had shot and killed a black teenager named Trayvon Martin in Florida, James and several of his Miami Heat teammates posed together for a photo in which they wore hooded sweatshirts (like Martin was wearing at the time of his death). James then posted the photo on Twitter.
James was outraged by a July 17, 2014 incident where a 43-year-old African American named Eric Garner died in Staten Island, New York, after having resisted the efforts of several white police officers (under the supervision of a black NYPD sergeant) to arrest him. One of the officers at the scene, Daniel Pantaleo, put his arms around the neck of the much larger Garner and took him down to the ground with a headlock/chokehold, at which point Garner reportedly said “I can’t breathe.” Garner subsequently suffered cardiac arrest in an ambulance that was taking him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead approximately an hour after the initial altercation. City medical examiners concluded that he had died as a result of an interplay between the police officer’s hold and Garner’s multiple chronic medical infirmities. “I Can’t Breathe” became a popular slogan of demonstrators who later protested Garner’s death in rallies across the United States. When a grand jury decided in December 2014 not to indict Officer Pantaleo, James wore a T-shirt that bore the words “I Can’t Breathe” during a pre-game warmup session in Brooklyn.
James was similarly disturbed by an August 9, 2014 altercation in which a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed an 18-year-old black male named Michael Brown, just minutes after Brown had perpetrated a strong-armed robbery of a local convenience store. Brown’s death set off a massive wave of protests and riots in Ferguson, which eventually grew into a national movement denouncing an alleged epidemic of police brutality against African Americans. The protesters falsely claimed that Brown had been shot in the back while fleeing from the officer, and that Brown at one point had raised his hands submissively in an attempt to surrender but was shot anyway. James, for his part, lamented in a television interview that “racism is still alive.” (Compelling ballistic, eyewitness, and forensic evidence eventually showed that Brown in fact had assaulted the officer and had tried to steal his gun just prior to the fatal shooting.)
In September 2016, James voiced his support for National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to protest America’s allegedly rampant racism and police brutality by kneeling, rather than standing, during a pregame national anthem: “I’m not a politician,” said James, “but I’ve lived this life and I’ve got a family and what scares me is my kids growing up in this society right now, where innocent lives are being taken [by police] and it seems like nothing is being done.” “I’m all in favor of anyone, athlete or non-athlete, being able to express what they believe in in a peaceful manner and that’s exactly what Colin Kaepernick is doing and I respect that,” James added.
In October 2016, James endorsed Hillary Clinton for U.S. President. “Only one person running [for President] truly understands the struggles of an Akron child born into poverty,” he wrote in an op-ed piece. “And when I think about the kinds of policies and ideas the kids in my [charitable] foundation need from our government, the choice is clear. That candidate is Hillary Clinton.” The following month in Cleveland, James gave a speech at a Clinton political rally where he said: “This woman right here [Mrs. Clinton] has the brightest future for our world.”
When President Barack Obama left office in January 2017, James recorded a personal farewell video message thanking the “unbelievable,” “one-of-a-kind” President for “standing tall every single day,” “leading our country,” and serving as “a true inspiration” to “everybody … who got dreams.” And when Obama turned 56 years old in August of that year, James tweeted him a happy-birthday message stating: “Yes we do love you! Thank you! Enjoy your day.”
In February 2017, James spoke out against President Donald Trump’s executive order which called for a temporary ban on travel to the U.S. from seven foreign countries that were hotbeds of crime and Islamic terrorism. “I am not in favor of this policy or any policy that divides and excludes people,” said James. “I stand with the many, many Americans who believe this does not represent what the United States is all about. And we should continue to speak out about it.”
In May 2017, an unidentified vandal spray-painted a racial slur (the “N” word) on the front gate outside of James’s $21-million-dollar, 9,440-square-foot mansion in Los Angeles. In response to the incident, James said:
“[I]t 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. Even though that it’s concealed most of the time, even though people hide their faces and will say things about you, and then when they see you they smile in your face. It’s alive every single day.
“And I think back to Emmett Till’s mom, actually, it’s kind of one of the first things I thought of. And the reason that she had an open casket is because she wanted to show the world what her son went through as far as a hate crime and being black in America.
“No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is tough. And we’ve got a long way to go for us as a society and for us as African-Americans until we feel equal in America.”
In the wake of an August 2017 incident where a white neo-Nazi at a Charlottesville, Virginia rally had rammed his vehicle into a crowd of counter-protesters and killed a 32-year-old woman in the process, James condemned President Trump’s public response to the tragedy and tweeted: “Hate has always existed in America. Yes we know that but Donald Trump just made it fashionable again!”
At a Cavaliers Media Day event in September 2017, James said of Trump: “He doesn’t understand the power that he has for being the leader of this beautiful country. He doesn’t understand how many kids, no matter the race, look up to the president of the United States for guidance, for leadership, for words of encouragement…. The people run this country, not one individual — and damn sure not him.” At the same event, James lauded the NFL players who, in defiance of President Trump’s recent criticism, continued to kneel in protest during pregame national anthems. “I salute the NFL, players, owners & the fans … there was solidarity, there was no divide,” James said. “Even from that guy [Trump] who tries to divide us.” When asked to explain why he thought so many Americans had voted for Trump in the 2016 election, James said: “Well, I mean, that’s a great question. At the end of the day, like I said, I don’t think a lot of people was educated.”
In a televised conversation with TV personality Cari Champion and pro-basketball star Kevin Durant in February 2018, James said: “The number-one job in America, the appointed person is someone [Trump] who doesn’t understand the people. And really don’t give a fu** about the people…. While we cannot change what comes out of that man’s mouth, we can continue to alert the people that watch us, that listen to us, as this is not the way.” “It’s not even a surprise when he says something,” James added. “It’s like laughable. It’s laughable and it’s scary.”
In February 2018, James said he considered it his duty as a parent and role model to use his celebrity status as a platform from which to speak out on social issues. Among his remarks were the following:
- “I do it because I am passionate about it. I do it because it is bigger than me. I am raising two African-American boys and an African-American daughter. It is hard.”
- “We [ballplayers] definitely will not shut up and dribble. I mean too much to society. I mean too much to the youth, I mean too much to so many kids who feel like they don’t have a way out. They need someone to help lead them out of the situation they are in.”
- “If it is for the greater good then I don’t mind being a symbol. I am not trying to get a reward for it. I don’t think Muhammad Ali tried to get a reward for it. I don’t think Jim Brown or Bill Russell or Jackie Robinson, and the list goes on, tried to get a reward for it. This is just who we are.”
In June 2018, James spoke out regarding President Trump’s decision to cancel the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles’ White House ceremony because of the ongoing controversy involving players kneeling during the pre-game national anthem at NFL games. “It’s typical of him,” said James. “I’m not surprised…. I mean I know no matter who wins [the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers], no one wants to get invited [to the White House] anyway. It won’t be Golden State or Cleveland going.”
In a July 2018 interview with CNN’s Don Lemon, James said that President Trump had “kind of used sport to kind of divide us.” When Lemon asked James what he “would you say to the president if he was sitting right here,” James replied: “I would never sit across from him…. I’d sit across from Barack, though.”
In October 2019, James spoke out against Daryl Morey, general manager of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, after the latter had posted a seven-word tweet — “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong” — in support of the masses of people in Hong Kong who were protesting the Chinese government’s recent efforts to deprive them of their civil and human rights. In China, the backlash to Morey’s tweet was harsh and swift: Major entities such as the Chinese Basketball Association, CCTV 5 (the sports channel of China’s top state broadcaster), Tencent Sports (the NBA’s exclusive digital partner in China), and sponsors like the Li-Ning sportswear company and the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, all vowed to suspend their cooperation with the Rockets — thereby raising the distinct possibility that Chinese revenues might suddenly stop flowing so rapidly into NBA coffers. James, who has a lucrative lifetime endorsement deal with the Nike Corporation — which in turn has enormous financial interests in China — stated that Daryl Morey “wasn’t educated” on the Hong Kong matter and thus should have kept his thoughts to himself. “So many people could have been harmed not only financially but physically, emotionally and spiritually” by what Morey said, James told reporters in Los Angeles. “So just be careful with what we tweet, and we say, and we do.” “Yes, we do have freedom of speech,” James added, “but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that too.”
In March 2020, James and his longtime business partner Maverick Carter launched a new media empire called SpringHill Co., with $100 million in investor backing. Los Angeles investment banker Paul Wachter, a member of the SpringHill board of directors, stated that the new venture was “designed to move the culture.” James, for his part, emphasized that SpringHill would be unapologetically political and would be “a maker and distributor of all kinds of content that will give a voice to creators and consumers who’ve been pandered to, ignored, or underserved.” “When we talk about storytelling, we want to be able to hit home, to hit a lot of homes where they feel like they can be a part of that story. And they feel like, Oh, you know what? I can relate to that. It’s very organic to our upbringing,” James added.
James was outraged by a May 25, 2020 incident where a 46-year-old black criminal suspect in Minneapolis named George Floyd died after a white police officer named Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes, an incident that subsequently sparked violent riots led by Black Lives Matter and Antifa. On his Instagram account, James posted side-by-side photographs of: (a) Officer Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck, and (b) former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during a pre-game national anthem as a gesture of protest against police brutality and racial injustice. James added the caption: “This … Is Why. Do you understand NOW!!??!!?? Or is it still blurred to you?? #StayWoke.” He also posted online:
- “This isn’t ok the way we’re treated man! I’m so hurtful for my people right this moment.”
- “If you still haven’t figured out why the protesting is going on. Why we’re acting as we are is because we are simply F-N tired of this treatment right here! Can we break it down for you any simpler than this right here???? . And to my people don’t worry I won’t stop until I see”
In early June 2020, James criticized NFL quarterback Drew Brees, who is white, for having recently stated that he still did not support Colin Kaepernick’s 2016 protests during pre-game national anthems. James tweeted in response: “WOW MAN!! Is it still surprising at this point. Sure isn’t! You literally still don’t understand why Kap was kneeling on one knee?? Has absolute nothing to do with the disrespect of [the flag] and our soldiers (men and women) who keep our land free. My father-in-law was one of those men who fought as well for this country. I asked him question about it and thank him all the time for his commitment. He never found Kap peaceful protest offensive because he and I both know what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong!”
Breitbart.com contributor Warner Todd Huston pointed out the hypocrisy of James’s tweet:
“[E]ven as James rails against Brees and those who would rather see people respect our American national anthem, the L.A. Lakers star has been utterly silent as Hong Kong residents are made to face fines and imprisonment if they dare to disrespect the anthem of LeBron’s sponsors in China. The Chinese-controlled Hong Kong Legislature passed a law this week that imposed a three-year prison term on anyone daring to mount a protest or even show ‘disrespect’ during the Chinese national anthem. Meanwhile, LeBron James has business deals with the Chinese government that could be worth millions in the future.”
In a June 25, 2020 interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, James said that the NFL should issue an apology to Colin Kaepernick: “As far as the NFL, I’m not in those locker rooms, I’m not with those guys, but I do understand that an apology — I have not heard a true, official apology to Colin Kaepernick on what he was going through and what he was trying to tell the NFL and tell the world about why he was kneeling when he was doing that as a San Francisco 49er. I just see that to still be wrong. Now they are listening some, but I still think we have not heard that official apology to a man who basically sacrificed everything for the better of this world.”
In June 2020 as well, James and his aforementioned business partner, Maverick Carter, formed a political organization called More Than A Vote (MTAV), to focus on increasing black voter turnout in political elections. One of MTAV’s first agenda items was to advocate for turning NBA arenas and other large sports venues into mega polling sites ahead of the November general election. “Yes, we want you to go out and vote, but we’re also going to give you the tutorial,” James said of MTAV. “We’re going to give you the background of how to vote and what they’re trying to do, the other side, to stop you from voting.” In a September 2020 interview, James said: “Black people in the community don’t believe that their vote matters. We grow up and don’t think that our vote actually matters. It doesn’t. We’ve seen recounts before. We’ve seen our voices be muted our whole lives.”
During a post-game interview on June 23, 2020, James demanded that the police officers involved in the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman who was shot and killed in her home by police on March 13, be arrested. Said James: “I want to continue to shed light on justice for Breonna Taylor and to her family and everything that’s going on with that situation…. We want the cops arrested who committed that crime. It’s unfortunate that — well, it’s fortunate that we had the George Floyd video to see it. I mean, is that what we need to see a video of Breonna being killed for people to realize how bad the situation is?” James then delivered a 15-minute monologue on racism, saying, in part:
“A lot of people talk about [how] Black Lives Matter is a movement,” he said. “It’s not a movement. When you’re black, it’s not a movement. It’s a lifestyle. This is a walk of life. When you wake up, and you’re Black, that is what it is. It shouldn’t be a movement. It should be a lifestyle. This is who we are. And we understand that, and we know that for one step that someone else might have to take, or for one yard someone else may have to take, we know we got to take five more steps. We know we got to take ten more yards to get to the end zone. I mean, we understand that. We know that. But it’s also what makes us as strong, it makes us as powerful, it makes us so unique and unified is that we done had so much hardships in our life — either from personal experiences or loved ones or reading history or seeing videos, Rodney King, or just being a part of just the communities that you’re in, where you’re just racially profiled from the time you come out of the womb. I don’t like the word ‘movement’ because, unfortunately, in America and in society, there ain’t been no damn movement for us. There ain’t been no movement.”
After a white police officer shot and wounded a black man named Jacob Blake on August 23, 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin — sparking violent riots — James tweeted: “And y’all wonder why we say what we say about the Police!! Someone please tell me WTF is this???!!! Exactly another black man being targeted. This shit is so wrong and so sad!! Feel so sorry for him, his family and OUR PEOPLE!! We want JUSTICE.”
James also issued the following remarks in interviews:
- “I know people get tired of hearing me say it, but we are scared as black people in America. Black men, black women, black kids, we are terrified.”
- “If you’re sitting here and telling me that there was no way [for police] to ‘saydue’ [subdue] that gentleman or detain him or just before firing guns, then you’re sitting here lying to not only me, but you’re lying to every African American, every black person in the community.”
- “You have no idea how that cop that day left the house. You don’t know if he woke up on the wrong side of the bed. You don’t know if he had an argument at home with his significant other. You don’t know if one of his kids said something to him and he left the house steaming. Or maybe he just left the house saying that, ‘Today is going to be the end for one of these black people.’ That’s what it feels like. That’s what it feels like. It just hurts. It hurts.”
James has a net worth of approximately $450 million. He has accumulated that wealth not only through his basketball contracts, but also by way of his billion-dollar lifetime Nike deal and his stake in such entities as Beats Electronics, Liverpool F.C., Blaze Pizza, and his own SpringHill Entertainment production company.