LeBron James reflects on MLK Day in today’s political climate: Weekly Wine and Gold

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Editor’s Note: With the Browns season (thankfully) behind us, we turn our Monday morning attention to the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the space previously taken by Winners and Losers, we’ll present you an inside look and the latest on the Wine and Gold.

INDEPENDENCE—Inscribed in tiny gold letters on the sole of LeBron James’ newest signature shoe is the date 07 13 2016. At first glance, it’s barely noticeable. The LeBron 15 is a high-top shoe rife with details, including area codes and a shout to “SFG” which is James’ acronym for Strive for Greatness. That date, however, is much more important than any hashtag or emoji as it throws back to the night James stood on stage with Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony to give a heartfelt speech on the political climate, specific to police brutality and gun violence, from the view of some of the globe’s most well-known athletes, and it’s inscribed on the midsole of a sneaker paying tribute to Black History Month.

Eighteen months later, on Martin Luther King Jr. day, James used his time following team’s shootaround to think back to that moment as a conversation starter, the first leg of a marathon that is still going today.

“At that point in time, with what was going on in America, seeing the things that were going on, it was the biggest night in the world for all of us athletes to come together,” James told WFNY on Monday morning. “We wondered what we can do to help. The most important thing for us was to try to continue the conversation about the state of us as Americans and us going forward. We are in a difficult state right now as Americans as well with the leader of our country. But us, like I said, no matter the religion, no matter the shapes and sizes, we all have to continue to come together and shine a brighter light on, you know, I mean, [I don’t want to] use the word stupidity, but that’s basically what it comes down to. Because we’ve built such an incredible country and for us to be able to live free lives and be able to work and work together, no matter the color of skin tone or things of that nature. We have to continue that.

“That date, two years ago, I put it on my shoes because it always reminds me of our conversation. The conversation of how to continue to keep people involved, people starting from their communities all the way to [any] other communities that they can, and giving the youth an opportunity to be as creative and as aware as they can be.”

At the time of James’ speech, the focus was on racism, injustice, and gun violence. Fatal shootings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota ignited feverish discussion and debate fueled by anger, distrust, and frustration. James encouraged other athletes to speak up, to utilize their platform, and to encourage further educating each other in hopes of ending violence. “It’s time to look in the mirror and ask ourselves what are we doing to create change,” he said on that night.

Several months later, James donated $2.5 million to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He also took a trip to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee to visit the museum that had been erected in King’s honor. He referred to the experience as both eerie and powerful to be at the site he was assassinated, but also to be a part of the movement going forward, which all ties back into his Cavaliers being one of several marquee teams playing during the NBA’s slate of MLK Day games.

“I think it’s unbelievable what the NBA has done,” James said. “To be able to have this may great games, a lot of great games on such a great day, for a man who stood for more than himself. You always hear about people risking their life—he actually gave up his life for the betterment of all of us. To be able to live in a free world, and for us to be able to have a voice, to go out and be free no matter your skin color, no matter who you are—height, size, or weight, whatever the case may be. He had a vision and took a bullet for all of us. Literally—the rawest form you can say that. He took a bullet for all of us.

“For us to stand here right now, even though we’re trying to be divided by somebody, it’s a great day for people to realize how we all have to stand united as one. As Americans, we all know and believe this is the greatest country.”

When James, Anthony, Wade, and Paul stood on that ESPY stage, it was during a night where the sports world was honoring Muhammad Ali. James spoke of Ali’s legacy, his standing up for change, even in moments where it would be to his personal detriment. James asked athletes to speak up. And he asked them to go back to their communities, investing time and financial resources, to help spur change.

When asked by WFNY as to whether or not he is bothered by the lack of change that has taken place since his speech, James replied in the negative.

“It’s not a sprint, so it doesn’t bother me,” James said. “It’s not a sprint, this is a marathon. You know, the state of racism will never die, but what we cannot do is allow it to conquer us as people. We can’t allow it to divide us. Like I said, the guy in control has given people and racism an opportunity to be out and outspoken without fear. And that’s the fearful thing for us because it’s with you, and it’s around every day, but he’s allowed people to come out and just feel confident about doing negative things. Like I said, we can’t allow that to stop us from continuing to be together and preach the right word of livin’ and lovin’ and laughin’ and things of that nature. Because would we want to live anywhere else? I don’t think so. We love this place.”

In the summer of 1963, King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech where he discussed the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. When James takes to the floor on Monday night, nearly 55 years later, he will be outfitted in an “I Have a Dream” Tee during warm-ups feeling as if, while America has come a long way since the days of Selma, it has an awful long way to go.

But had King not been fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, how would he feel today? How would he feel about the current climate? And how would he feel about James specifically, in his efforts to use his platform for the betterment of the world?

“Well I hope I could make him proud or made him proud, James said. “Just taking what he was able to give to us and give us that type of empowerment, give us that type of strength to be able to go out and talk about things that really matter. [To] be able to live for something that’s more than you as an individual. So hopefully I would be one of those guys that made him proud. Hopefully I’m making him proud still with him looking down on us.”

History books are littered with dates and times and moments and places. LeBron James is simply aiming to add another, his moment, to their pages.