Would all the LeBron James haters please sit down now? Don't count on it. If the nonstop hatred against President Obama is any indication of how the critics will respond to King James in the future, it may take some time.
Even after becoming a two-term president, preventing a depression, rescuing the auto industry, passing a historic health care bill and bringing Osama bin Laden to justice, some haters still won't give Obama his due. Similarly, even after scoring 37 points in Thursday night's Game 7, becoming a two-time NBA champion and a two-time NBA finals MVP, some haters still won't give James his due.
But the former Cleveland Cavaliers star had a ready response after winning the coveted NBA championship this year. "I'm LeBron James from Akron, Ohio," he said, "From the inner city. I'm not even supposed to be here."
That innocuous and inspirational comment immediately drew criticism, as some complained there was nothing special about his second NBA championship ring in a row. One online tweeter noted, "You're 6'8", 250 lbs, LeBron. Where the Hell else would you be?"
Or he could be in prison, along with so many other potentially talented African-American men who never made it out of the ghetto and found themselves profiled, stopped, frisked and locked away among the disproportionately incarcerated in a society where Black men are imprisoned up to seven times as often as white men.
Or worse still, he could have ended up dead, like my own cousin, a former high school football star in St. Louis, who never even made it to college.
White America may not realize this, but in our society, it's not a given that a talented Black man — even one with the athletic ability of LeBron James — will end up alive, much less deploying his talents in South Beach.
Of course, some have never forgiven James for leaving his home state of Ohio, and others still fault him for the prime time televised announcement of his departure in 2010. "I personally guarantee that the Cleveland Cavaliers will win an NBA Championship before the self-titled former 'King' wins one," Cavs owner Dan Gilbert angrily responded at the time. Since that promise, James has been to the NBA finals three times and won twice, but the cavalier Quicken Loans founder hasn't coughed up a dime on his guarantee.
Not surprisingly, when the Miami Heat's Big Three lost their first NBA bid in June 2011, critics quickly piled on. Conservative commentator Joe Scarborough wrote an unflattering piece comparing James to Obama, and describing the two men as overrated, self-serving narcissists, "bound — not by greatness — but by their own collapse when the klieg lights burned at their brightest." I wonder what he's thinking today.
For privileged white men like Gilbert and Scarborough, high-profile Black men like James and Obama are embraced as long as they don't make mistakes, or at least not mistakes that challenge the hierarchy of the existing social order. In the view of some, the president of the United States and the NBA's most talented player are just two more workers on the plantation who should be busy making money for the elite.
Perhaps, then, it's no coincidence that James should win the championship on the same day when a Florida court seated six female jurors and four alternates, and no African-Americans, to render a verdict on the man who killed Miami resident Trayvon Martin last year. While some NBA players remained silent, it was James and his teammates who displayed their support for Trayvon by putting on hoodies and posing for a provocative team photo of solidarity.
And perhaps it's no coincidence that the Heat victory comes on the same weekend when the upcoming movie, Fruitvale Station, depicting the story of Oscar Grant, has been the buzz here in Miami among the hundreds of Black film makers who have gathered for the American Black Film Festival. The film depicts the story of yet another unarmed young Black man who was shot and killed.
So yes, there are a lot of other places LeBron James and Barack Obama could have ended up instead of South Beach and Pennsylvania Avenue. But they ended up exactly where they needed to be for America to take notice. I'm sure he didn't mean it this way, but maybe Joe Scarborough was right. James and Obama are the same. They're both Black men standing up against the haters and winning against the odds.
Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes political commentary for BET.com each week.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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