LeBron James has created a new organization aimed at not just increasing African American voter registration and turnout, but also voter education and voting rights protection.
The project — More Than a Vote — is, needless to say, ambitious, especially for someone with a day job of trying to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA title. It’s not subtle, either. While it can’t legally advocate on behalf of a certain candidate, there is little question about the end goal.
In doing so, James steps further from caring about who does or doesn’t buy sneakers and closer to trying to unapologetically live his life how he chooses — full-on and all-in.
“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,” James told the New York Times.
Essentially, it’s like how he approaches a rim, with uncommon purpose.
LeBron James is 35 years old, still a young man by many standards. It is part of what makes him such a fascinating figure to watch. He’s moved into a stage of life in which when he decides to do something, it’s full throttle in ways that few of his stature do anymore.
This isn’t just hashtags or a nebulous call for better. Will his efforts make much of an impact? Who knows? You can respect the passion and the hustle regardless though.
You wade into politics, and you’re sure to anger a lot of people. If all you care about is partisanship, then you might hate his guts. If he switches parties, then you’ll love him, of course. And those who currently love him, will hate him. Lakers fans used to hate him, too. In Cleveland, he was loved, hated, then loved again. It’s all the same. He’s been getting booed since high school.
So if you don’t like the side he’s on, then you can try to tear him down and shout about how he should denounce China like he’s the Secretary of State, or how his handling of “The Decision” was terrible or whatever else.
If so, you’re missing out on quite a story. Here is one of the biggest stars in the world, still in his prime, with fame and fortune, and he is out there organizing and recruiting other athletes and entertainers to try to stir up black voter engagement in select markets — often in swing states. Draymond Green in Michigan. Trae Young in Atlanta. Skylar Diggins-Smith in Phoenix.
He’s not just sending out a post. He’s working on the granular details of how to make a tangible difference.
This is mostly who he has become though. Once a child star, he now — after ups and downs, losses and championships — is approaching life with vast goals and a unique perspective.
He’s married to his high school girlfriend and is the very involved father of two boys and a girl. (Critics say he cheers too loud at their basketball games because … well, again, they are critics.)
As he said, he is showing everyone how he approaches life. As an African American man, sure, but as a man of any race really. His brand of fatherhood can be an inspiration to all. It’s more notable considering he grew up without a dad to show him how it’s done.
“Just breaking the mode, that's all," James told Chris Haynes, now of Yahoo Sports but then of Cleveland.com, back in 2016. "I wanted to be a part of the statistics that breaks the mode of fathers running out on their kids. That was something that I obviously went through. I knew from Day 1 that wasn't going to be me.”
So he leads, by example, in small ways that are big. Then he goes and builds big things, too. The I Promise School that serves grades 3-8 in a comprehensive manner. The scholarship partnership he helped set up between the University of Akron and local high school grads. All the work with the Boys & Girls Clubs everywhere, particularly after-school programs. Plenty more.
He grew up surrounded by dysfunction. He and his mother moved constantly, living in cheap apartments and friends’ couches. In the fourth grade, he missed 83 days of school because there was no one to take him in the morning. He knows he’s fortunate.
As a kid he dreamed of one day of having the power and resources to do whatever he wanted — the kind of dream almost everyone has. Yet when he achieved it, he didn’t stop at just buying lots of things. He kept dreaming. He keeps dreaming. What’s next? It isn’t just basketball. It’s not just making money. Be the best player? Best father? Entertainment executive? Philanthropist? Educator? Actor?
This isn’t his first foray into politics, but it’s certainly his first LeBron-sized one. He’s been outspoken on social media, but even with his massive following, that’s just social media. In 2016, he endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, but he appeared at just one rally.
This looks different. He’s got a plan in place to achieve a defined goal: registering and motivating young voters, particularly African Americans, who tend to sit out elections but could flip things if they didn’t.
He could be focused on what may be his last best shot at a fourth NBA championship, or building his businesses or just relaxing in the California sun.
One of his critics once told him to shut up and dribble. It’s possible that person never saw him bringing it in an open court, full head of steam.
Because once LeBron James gets dribbling, he’s nearly impossible to stop.
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