LeBron James: More Than an Athlete

Through his 17 NBA seasons, the on-court accomplishments of LeBron James are so obvious that there’s no credible argument against his place amongst the game’s all-time greats.

Meanwhile, off the court, James has increasingly lent his voice, resources and passion in myriad other ways, which continued on Wednesday when we learned via the New York Times that LeBron is leading the formation of a voting rights group called More Than a Vote, a phrasing that may sound familiar.

The organization is “aimed at protecting African-Americans’ voting rights, seizing on the widespread fury against racial injustice that has fueled worldwide protests to amplify their voices in this fall’s presidential election,” according to Jonathan Martin of the Times.

Along with several current and former athletes like Atlanta’s Trae Young and ESPN’s Jalen Rose, the organization has the intention to help get African-Americans registered to vote towards the goal of casting a ballot both in November, and into the future.

As ESPN’s Dave McMenamin laid out, in his story, social activism is nothing new for LeBron.

“James, 35, first used his voice to bring awareness to social issues affecting black Americans in March 2012, when he and then-teammate Dwyane Wade organized a photo of the entire Miami Heat team wearing hooded sweatshirts, the same style of hoodie that Trayvon Martin was wearing when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. James' activism grew from there. He has used his social media platforms (he has more than 112 million followers combined on Twitter and Instagram) and interview sessions with NBA reporters to speak out on the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Aavielle Wakefield. His social consciousness and desire for positive change led his charitable organization, the LeBron James Family Foundation, to open the I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, in 2018 to provide a specialized education program for at-risk students in his community.

Throughout the 2019-20 NBA season, which is currently set to resume in late July with an 8-game regular season prior to a full slate of playoff games, LeBron’s play has had him in a two-player MVP discussion, and pushed the Lakers to a 5.5-game lead in the West that all but assures them the No. 1 seed. The leadership qualities he’s shown have been constantly noted by his teammates and coaching staff, and we’re seeing that same sense of purpose off the court.

According to the NYT story, LeBron was particularly motivated to act following the tragic murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers that set off a series of international protests, which encouraged LeBron to “get out and do a little bit more.”

“I’m inspired by the likes of Muhammad Ali, I’m inspired by the Bill Russells and the Kareem Abdul-Jabbars, the Oscar Robertsons — those guys who stood when the times were even way worse than they are today,” LeBron told the NYT. “Hopefully, someday down the line, people will recognize me not only for the way I approached the game of basketball, but the way I approached life as an African-American man.

“Yes, we want you to go out and vote, but we’re also going to give you the tutorial. We’re going to give you the background of how to vote and what they’re trying to do, the other side, to stop you from voting.”

More Than a Vote is set to be organized as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, which as the NYT states, means it will not engage in specific advocacy for a candidate. Earlier this week, LeBron set up a call that included Rose, Young, WNBA star Skyler Diggins-Smith, Warriors forward Draymond Green, former Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem and NFL star Alvin Kamara, who represent various diverse communities across the country. Comedian Kevin Hart has also committed to the cause, and LeBron is reportedly engaged in conversations with several musicians as well.

Being a leader has become synonymous with LeBron James, with More Than a Vote serving as the most recent and direct example.

“There’s a lot of people that want change in the black community,” LeBron told the NYT. “If you actually don’t put in the work or if you don’t have the mind-set, there’s never going to be change.”