LeBron James isn’t going to stick to sports, no matter who suggests it.
During an interview this week with Discover+ in Sweden, AC Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic said it is a “mistake” that “doesn’t look good” when James and other “famous” people get involved in politics.
James responded to the soccer star’s comments following the Lakers’ win Friday over the Portland Trail Blazers.
“I would never shut up about things that are wrong,” James said. “I preach about my people, and I preach about equality. Social injustice. Racism. Systematic voter suppression. Things that go on in our community.
“Because I was a part of my community at one point and saw the things that was going on, and I know what’s going on still because I have a group of 300-plus kids at my [charter] school that are going through the same thing, and they need a voice.
“I’m their voice, and I use my platform to continue to shed light on everything that may be going on, not only in my community, but around this country and around the world. So, there’s no way I would ever just stick to sports, because I understand how this platform and how powerful my voice is.”
James is one of the most politically and socially active figures in sports — and the 36-year-old has drawn ire for his words in the past. In 2018, Fox News host Laura Ingraham infamously told him to “shut up and dribble” after James criticized then-President Donald Trump.
Over the last year, athletes like James have become more vocal about off-court issues, in wake of social protests across the country.
James and Ibrahimovic crossed over in Los Angeles for 16 months between 2018 and 2019, when Ibrahimovic was with the Galaxy and James the Lakers.
“He was the same guy who said when he was back in Sweden … because his last name wasn’t a certain last name, that he felt there was some racism going on when he was out on the pitch,” James said. “I speak from a very educated mind, so I’m kind of the wrong guy to actually go at because I do my homework.”
James was referencing an interview in 2018, when Ibrahimovic said his Bosnian roots made him the subject of racism, particularly in the media, in his native Sweden.
“I am not Andersson or Svensson,” Ibrahimovic told Canal+. “If I would be that, trust me, they would defend me even if I would rob a bank. They would defend me, I tell you.”
On Friday, James also praised Jaylen Brown of the Celtics and NFL stars Patrick Mahomes and Alvin Kamara for using their platforms to fight for social justice. He also recognized Renee Montgomery, a former WNBA player who became part owner of the Atlanta Dream franchise this week after the league pressured Sen. Kelly Loeffler to sell.
“It makes me feel proud to be a part of a generation where our voices are heard and guys are speaking from an educated mindset,” James said. “But more importantly, when you speak from your heart, it rings bells even louder.
“And we’ve got a lot of guys speaking from the heart that didn’t believe they had a voice at one point in time, or now they’re coming into it and they see that they can have a voice and that their voice really matters. That makes me proud.”