There are two ways to look at this. One, that when James speaks on social issues, he’s doing it out of a sense of obligation as a public-facing person and a face of the NBA; as long as he makes sure he’s on the same page as the NBA, his personal beliefs, whether it’s speaking out on Colin Kaepernick or calling the president a bum on Twitter (which are not official NBA positions but definitely position the NBA brand among positions the world wants to believe it holds), carry weight that Silver’s wouldn’t. The other, less charitable version is that LeBron wants to toe the company line before he says anything, and just wants to know what that company line is before he speaks up. (LeBron has criticized the NBA before, but on issues of basketball and union relations, not politics.) Whichever way you look at it, though, it asks LeBron James to act, essentially, like a public official, one with the same weight (or even more) than the multibillion-dollar corporation he works for. LeBron’s willingness to speak his views on social justice in America certainly contrast with his lack of such willingness to speak on social justice in China. But he shares this hypocrisy with his league. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that perhaps this has driven his public statements all along. When it benefits his league to speak up, he does. When it doesn’t, he doesn’t.
That’s annoying — it certainly makes his calling the president a bum feel considerably less cathartic, and I’m definitely gonna take the JAMES 2024 sign out of my front yard — but it’s really not all that different than the rest of us. We all work for somebody, you know? The way the world works now, with this corporation taking over this corporation, and normal human workers feeling like their jobs are more precarious than ever, and the sense that any public or social-media statement you’ve ever made could come back someday to ruin your life … there’s all sorts of opinions that we, as regular people walking down the street, don’t broadcast out of concern for our own well-being. Is this lame? Does it make us cowardly? Probably! But it’s also the reality of life on this planet.