A miserable Game One performance against the Spurs might be the least of LeBron James’ problems. Not only is his reliance on the word “definetely” the subject of considerable conjecture, but his refusal to sign an open letter to the Chinese Government addressing their complicity in the genocide taking place in the Sudan is once again, receiving serious attention.
After being pilloried by Bloomberg’s Scott Soshnick, The Christian Science Monitor’s Jonathan Zimmerman and Slate’s Charles Pierce, James faces the wrath of the Oregonian’s John Canzano, who muses the Cavs’ superstar “has been managed and handled and packaged for eventual sale since he was 15…He’s been told what to sign, and what to think, and when to dump his agent. The Beatles would have hated this kid.”
This isn’t about whether James agrees with what’s going on in the world, or not. It’s about his refusal to participate at all. Given the opportunity to sign his teammate’s letter or stand in support of China’s decision to do business with Sudan, James demonstrated his undying loyalty to LeBron Inc. and walked the fence with a sterile, lame remark about needing more information.
Nevermind that 10 of his teammates had all they needed. Also, he waved off a question about Nike’s corporate responsibility and the work conditions of the mostly young, mostly female, mostly Asian factory employees who make the sneakers bearing James’ name.
“Nike’s a big company,” James said, “they’ll figure it out.”
As much as we wish it were true, James, who could have deep, lasting impact on this world if he so chooses, had nothing to do with Nike’s recent manifesto about corporate responsibility. And the hunch here is that he’s not ever going to choose to be socially relevant, which goes down as a woeful waste.
On Friday, James talked about jump shots and defense and basketball, the most important facets of his world. In a candid moment, the game’s best young player said that social responsibility takes a backseat to business. In fact, James said he understands his basketball career won’t last forever, and that he hopes life after the NBA will give him an opportunity to “be more of a businessman, which I can try and set things up for my family.”
Lucky for him they don’t live in Darfur.
Though Canzano makes an excellent point (ie. pretty much the same one Soshnick, Zimmerman and Pierce made previously), I continue to wonder what’s fair about holding a 22 year old (albeit a globally famous, enormously well compensated 22 year old) to a higher standard than everyone else. Has Michael Jordan signed Ira Newble’s letter? How about Dan Gilbert, Nate McMillan or David Stern?
LeBron will probably not be mistaken for Etan Thomas in the near future, though Canzano insisting James is “not ever going to choose to be socially relevant” is kind of like saying he’ll never win a ring based solely on how he played the other night. Perhaps there’s a more constructive, less grandstand-y way of trying to get James to give a hoot about the rest of the world?
I’m supremely confident had Canzano presented LeBron with a reading list (or just a few links), James would’ve been receptive. This isn’t the 1970’s anymore — we no longer have helpful organizations like the SLA brainwashing Bill Walton. Each of us, sports journalists included, has to do what we can to raise consciousness, one global icon at a time.