Los Angeles Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and current Lakers superstar LeBron James are not only two of the best players to ever step foot on an NBA court, but they are also two of the most outspoken and active athletes when it comes to off-court activism.
Recently, however, Abdul-Jabbar was critical of LeBron’s handling of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. While Abdul-Jabbar was extremely supportive of the vaccine and everyone taking part, James was more hesitant and even posted a meme on social media equating it with the common cold or flu.
LeBron did ultimately receive the vaccine before the start of the Lakers season, but Abdul-Jabbar was extremely disappointed in James for some of the messages he spread and spoke out on that. The two have not spoken about Abdul-Jabbar’s criticism and in an interview with Dan Woike of the L.A. Times, the Hall of Famer reiterated his belief that there are a couple of things that he believes LeBron did or said that are beneath his greatness:
“I wouldn’t mind doing it if he would take the time. I definitely got the time,” Abdul-Jabbar said of speaking with him. “I admire the things that he’s done that have gotten all our attention. Sending a whole school to college? Wow. That’s amazing. His thoughtfulness and willingness to back it up with his wallet, you got to give him credit for that.
“So I’m not throwing stones. I just wish he wouldn’t — you know, some of the things he’s done, he should be embarrassed about. That’s just where I’m coming from.”
Of course, it was Kareem’s belief that LeBron should be embarrassed about some of the things he’s done that got the most attention. Criticism from the outside is nothing new for James, but when it is coming from such a respected figure as Abdul-Jabbar, it’s a bit different.
Even still, the Lakers legend sought to bring further clarity to those recent comments in an article he himself penned for the L.A. Times. In it, Abdul-Jabbar insisted that his criticism comes from a place of love and that he still views LeBron as a true hero:
Over the years, I’ve been asked to comment on and write about LeBron James. A couple years ago, I wrote an article for Sports Illustrated about LeBron as a Sportsperson of the Year in which I said: “[T]his generation couldn’t do any better in the hero department than LeBron James. Part of being a hero is to have both the modesty to feel unworthy of such a heavy word and the strength to accept the responsibility that comes with others looking to you to be that hero. What is a hero but someone who stands up for those who can’t? Who embodies our cherished ideals of sportsmanship: fair play, hard work and compassion? That pretty much describes the LeBron James I’ve watched and come to know since he was the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft and was named Rookie of the Year.” In the two years since I wrote that, my respect and admiration has only grown for LeBron as I watched him champion worthwhile causes while maintaining his status as an elite athlete. As he closes is on my all-time scoring record, I have been a cheerleader urging him on, happy to pass the mantle to someone so worthy as an athlete and a person.
LeBron is still the daunting hero I described two years ago. He’s still a major force in improving lives in the Black Community. He’s still one of the greatest basketball players in history. He’s still a man who has earned the overwhelming admiration of millions. And every day he goes out and proves why he deserves that admiration.
On occasion I have chided LeBron when I thought he was dropping the ball when it came to supporting the community. But I did so in the spirit of a loving older brother offering guidance, whether wanted or not. So, when I said that he has done some things he should be embarrassed about, that wasn’t a slam or a barb or even a finger wag, it was me recapping some of what I’d said in the past. The Sports Illustrated article was an homage to LeBron for winning the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award for his role in social activism. So, when I think he may be veering from the path that made him win that award, I’ll mention it. I’m a journalist. That’s what I do. But I believe LeBron is strong enough and gracious enough to understand that I have only love for him in my heart.
It can be argued that LeBron has accomplished as much or more for his community off the court than he has in the NBA as one of the best players of all time. But what this seems to come on to most is expectations. When someone has done so much good over the years, the expectation is always there for you to continue doing so.
While some may disagree, in the eyes of Kareem himself, James has failed on that issue a couple of times over the past couple of years and he believes it is his responsibility to speak up and let LeBron know that. The two will forever be linked both as Lakers superstars, activists and the two highest-scoring players in NBA history. Hopefully they will be able to sit down together as what those two could come up with to help the community would be awe-inspiring.
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