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MLK Day: Reflecting on race, LeBron James

1/17/2011

As part of ESPN's salute to the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Day, a panel including Michael Wilbon, Jalen Rose, and Spike Lee, among others, discussed the role that race plays in LeBron James' image and public perception surrounding the two-time NBA MVP. If you haven't gotten a chance to watch this intelligent conversation about one of sports' most controversial figures, it's well worth the 13 minutes your time. A clip from ESPN's Town Hall Meeting:

Moderator Bob Ley to Michael Wilbon: You talked to LeBron that particular evening of The Decision. You saw the editorial firestorm and the push-back, the fact that he later said in an interview on CNN that race was involved in that push-back. When you look at the reaction, the way he strategized this, put this together, utilized his powers as a free agent, you see the way America reacted to it – and largely sometimes along racial lines – what do you think?

Wilbon: I’m not that surprised. And I talked to LeBron about some of those things a little before and a little bit afterward. Race was involved. And people need to stop when they hear the word “race”. If you say “race is involved," it doesn’t mean you’re a bigot, it means race is involved. And race is involved in everyone’s perspective all the time and we need to just get accustomed to that. Clearly, I think LeBron made some miscalculations. I think he’s sort of making one now. LeBron is not a villain. And villainy can sell. It can sell a lot. You can use that as part of your branding. The bad-boy Pistons, among other teams, did that very successfully. But LeBron -- I think I know reasonably well for a person in the media –he’s a nice guy.

You can watch the entire discussion in the above video.