If you live on planet earth you’ve probably seen an advertisement that features Cavaliers star LeBron James. From Kia car commercials to Nike billboards, the King is just as much a brand as he is a basketball player. He has cashed in on his notoriety, as MoneyNation recently reported LeBron’s net worth at 223 million.
His influence and power in our society is undeniable, with 33.5 million followers on Twitter alone. As an athlete, he knows that his voice leads more than just his teammates on the court.
That’s probably why Hillary Clinton was all smiles when LeBron endorsed her at a rally in Cleveland on Sunday. I was surprised that LeBron made his opinion so vocal in one of the most contentious elections of our lifetimes.
In the past, LeBron has not operated like former social activist and boxer Muhammad Ali, who was often brash, bold and abrasive. LeBron has often chosen more neutral and strategic routes when addressing social issues, despite his respect for the GOAT.
“I give all credit to Muhammad Ali because he was the first icon. He is the GOAT. He's the greatest of all-time and it has zero to do with his accomplishments inside the ring," LeBron said following the death of Ali.
When a grand jury decided not to press charges on police officers who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, activists asked LeBron to sit out from basketball until justice was served. He didn’t sit out and did not state his opinion on the matter, one way or the other.
“I haven't really been on top of this issue," he said at the time. "So it's hard for me to comment. I understand that any lives that [are] lost, what we want more than anything is prayer and the best for the family, for anyone."
However, he did not ignore the issue of violence in our nation altogether. This past summer LeBron joined fellow NBA stars at the ESPY’s to speak out against violence in our communities.
“It is time to look ourselves in the mirror and say ‘what are we doing to create change?’” he said. “We all have to do better.”
LeBron publicly endorsing Hilary to me is different than the way he has approached catalyzing societal change in the past. There is no sense of neutrality and he clearly takes a side that has the potential to and likely has upset the opposition.
Maybe the risk is worth the reward. LeBron has helped underprivileged children through his own charity and clearly has a passion for helping youth.
He explained part of his reason for backing Clinton when he said, “With my foundation, giving kids the notion that someone care[s] about them, that what they dream about, that someone like myself and JR and President Hillary Clinton can make their dreams become a reality is very important to me. I believe that this woman right here can continue that.”
He encouraged people to join his team and he very well could be effective in attracting more people to the polls.
“I grew up in the inner city and I know the whole the notion of getting out in voting and I was one of those kids and I was around the community that was like our vote doesn’t matter but it really does,” he said. “We have to get out and make sure we vote. We have to get out, be knowledgeable about what is going on.”
His decision to become more vocal on social issues is a testament to the evolution of both his public image and his personal goals. In the past, he was more strategic but not absent, when it came to social issues, clearly trying to find a balance between helping social causes while not hurting his own business.
Now, the gloves appear to be off.
By publicly and vocally endorsing a candidate in a very divided and bitter election, he is making it clear that he is beginning to count the worth of his brand in a currency more valuable than solely dollars and cents.