Given their nature and frequency, the vast majority of press conferences contain very little in the way of tried and true information. Following most games—especially in basketball and football—coaches will speak of needing to “watch the tape” before being willing to comment on a topic that oftentimes loses its importance by the time said tape is watched. Players will oftentimes credit their opponents for putting up a fight or taking it “one game at a time.” Gregg Williams dares non-football people to challenge his schemes. Chris Grant used to love reminding us all that, despite being among the worst teams in the history of the NBA, they had a “lot of good guys” in the locker room.
On Monday afternoon, from approximately 1-1:45 p.m., LeBron James flipped the script on the entire press conference landscape, delivering long, thoughtful replies to a variety of questions which ranged from his team and the game of basketball to his place in the world of political activism. Like B Rabbit during the final scene in 8 Mile, James approached the podium and delivered a statement before the questions could start rolling in, saying he knew what everyone wanted to address, and he would answer any and all questions, requesting that the media in front of him would pick a topic and address every aspect of it prior to switching gears to another. Tom Withers, in his customary first question, offered James the chance to pick the first topic, to which the four-time MVP selected “Kyrie Irving.” And away we went.
So much has been penned about James and how much he has changed—some will say “matured”—since his first stint with the Cavaliers, but one could argue even more so that there has been growth since he returned to Cleveland. For instance: Here’s an image of James I took during his moment at the podium this past Monday.
James was in such a good mood he was willing to let Kenny Roda get a question in.
Now compare that to his press conference during the team’s Media Day in 2014 where James, who had just returned to Cleveland, sat stoic, headband in place, in his attempt to instill a businesslike attitude on a team that had not exactly been the most disciplined during the four years he had been in Miami. Here was a guy whose return to Cleveland was one of the biggest stories in the history of professional sports, and all he wanted to talk about was his quest to immediately turn the franchise around, starting with the first practice that would take place one day later.
In hindsight, it may have just been James wanting to set the tone for a team that, at the time, still employed guys like Dion Waiters. But looking back, it’s also the evolution of what Twitter endearingly refers to as “Dad LeBron”, a guy who knows every word he says could be (and most likely will be) used in a headline, but one who simultaneously has to ensure that the rest of his team meets his incredibly lofty expectations in the same way a parent does his or her son or daughter.
Specific to Irving, James rhetorically asked if he was his fault in the way a parent would question if past decisions lead to current actions. He referred to Kyrie as “the kid” on numerous occasions, and when asked if he had any words of advice for his former teammate during his new chapter, he quickly shot that down.
“I don’t have any advice for him now, said James.” We’re trying to win a championship here. You’re either with us or you’re against us. If my son went to another team and we’re playing against each other, I ain’t telling him shit. He can come home and eat dinner or something, but he’s getting no advice from me. That’s just the way it goes.”
Regarding his impending free agency, James, on multiple occasions, stated his desire to remain in Cleveland throughout the rest of his career remains unchanged, and that he would not let the end of his current contract interfere with the task at hand. It wouldn’t be long before the course would turn toward the nation’s current political climate with this specific press conference falling just days after the NFL displayed a variety of unifying measures in the wake of President Trump calling protesters “sons of bitches.”
“First of all, I salute the NFL, the coaches, the players, the owners, the fans, everyone who had anything to do with the NFL yesterday—it was unbelievable,” said James. “There was no divide. Even from ‘that guy’ who continues to divide us as people. The thing that frustrates me is that he’s using sports to try to divide us. Sport is so amazing. What sports can do for everyone, no matter shape or size or race or ethnicity or religion… People find players and teams because of sports and it makes them so happy and it brings people together like none other. I’m not going to let—while I have this platform—I’m not going to let one individual no matter the power, no matter the impact that he or she should have, ever use sport as a platform to divide us. Then you go to the other side, not talking about sports, and he tries to divide us as well. How can we personally, throughout everything that that guy is doing, no matter if you voted for him or not, can we sit up here and say ‘I’m trying to make a difference.’ I want the best for the American people no matter the skin color, race, how tall or athletic, we need to try to make a difference. This is the greatest country in the world, but we still have problems like everyone else. The people run this country, not one individual, and damn sure not him. As I have this platform, I will lend my voice, my passion, my money and my resources to let kids know there is hope. There are greater walks of life. No one individual, even if it’s the president of the United States, or someone in your household can stop your dreams from becoming a reality.”
James went on to address his now historic “u bum” tweet1, discussing how children look up to the President, and how frustrated he is that that a person in that very role has the opportunity to bring people together but is failing to do so. He addressed how he understands the state of Ohio voted for the current president, but believes his platform is one of importance regardless of the city he plays in. When asked if he will be kneeling this season, he stated his “voice is more important than his knee”, with fans and media alike knowing where he stands on these matters.
The entire conference was captivating, providing a slew of news items, and even more in the way of discussions to be had going forward. To get 45 minutes of any athlete’s time is rare in today’s environment. To get it with the best player in the NBA, one who had countless obligations throughout this day, is even more rare. In contrast to the rest of press conference that take place throughout the season, this past Monday provided those in attendance with a historic dialogue. Not to borrow from an old marketing campaign, but we were—for roughly 45 minutes—all witnesses.
This Week in #ActualSportswriting:
- “You Just Can’t Shake it” by Kevin Van Valkenburg (ESPN The Magazine)2
- “The Day the NFL Finally Acknowledged the Real World” by Kevin Clark (The Ringer)
- “The Justice League” by Bruce Schoenfeld (Esquire)3
- “Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan was the end all and be all of heel managers” by David Shoemaker (The Ringer)4
This Week in #ActualNonsportswriting:
- “The Search for facts in a post-fact world” by Michelle Dean (WIRED)
- “Tucker Carlson is sorry for being mean” by Stephen Roderick (GQ)
- “Who is the Times’ woeful opinion section even for?” by David Uberti (Splinter)5
- “Gone Baby Gone” by Rachel Monroe (New Republic)6
This Week in Picks:
Now *that* is more like it. Last week, overall, was a great one. I was 9-6-1 overall, nailing three of the five picks in my Sunday morning tweet, and posterizing all three picks in this column last week in Houston, Atlanta, and Kansas City. The Falcons really tried to give it away, but a 10-second runoff saved the day.
It’s a tough card this week with a slew of spreads sitting between 0-3 points. We’ll roll with two tight ones and one north of a touchdown.
San Francisco (+7.5) at ARIZONA
Philadelphia (pick) at LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
DENVER (-2.5) vs Oakland
YTD ATS: 4-5
Last Week: 3-0
- Retweeted over 666,000 times. [↩]
- A great profile on a player who gets some of the most online ridicule in professional sports. [↩]
- A great story on activism in the NBA. Also: God, I’m glad the NBA is back. [↩]
- Fewer people write an obituary better than Shoemaker. I hate that he as had to write so many. [↩]
- “Online opinion writing can feel suffocating in its overabundance, making a robust section with high standards all the more important.” [↩]
- Cleveland real estate gets an unfortunate shout out in this piece. [↩]