Four-time NBA champion LeBron James has hit back at Swedish football star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, saying there is no reason why he cannot have just as big an effect off the basketball court as he does on it.
James has been a force for social change in the United States, focusing much of his attention on police brutality and racial injustice against African Americans.
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He was outspoken about the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin last year, and against former President Donald Trump, and he worked with other NBA stars to try and get Black people out to vote during the recent US election that brought Joe Biden to power.
“I speak from a very educated mind. I am kind of the wrong guy to go at because I do my homework,” said James on Friday after the Los Angeles Lakers 102-93 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.
James was responding to Ibrahimovic’s comments earlier this week that athletes should “stay out” of politics, mentioning James by name and calling him out over his political activism.
“[LeBron] is phenomenal at what he’s doing, but I don’t like when people have some kind of status, they go and do politics at the same time,” Ibrahimovic said.
Speaking in an interview for UEFA for Discovery+ in Sweden, the outspoken striker said it is a “mistake” when athletes step out of their lane.
“I don’t do politics … That is the first mistake people do when they become famous and they become in a certain status. Stay out of it. Just do what you do best because it doesn’t look good,” Ibrahimovic said.
James helped found the More Than a Vote organisation which boosted voter turnout in Black areas. The group organised more than 40,000 volunteers to work at the polls during the November federal election.
James says winning championships is one thing but inspiring and empowering people and bringing Americans together is just as rewarding.
“At the end of the day, I would never shut up about things that are wrong. I preach about my people and I preach about equality, social injustice, racism, voter suppression. Things that go on in our community,” James said.
“There is no way I would ever just stick to sports. I know how powerful my voice is.”
James said he likes to think he is the start of something much bigger in sports.
“You see young guys speaking about things they feel is unjust,” he said.
“For a long time, we heard, ‘as athletes you should be thankful to be able to throw a ball, dribble a ball, swing a baseball bat. You shouldn’t be able to speak about anything else’.
“That is not the case any more. It won’t be the case for a long time.”
James also made it clear he was aware of comments made in 2018 by Ibrahimovic, the Swedish-born son of a Bosnian father and a Croatian mother.
“He’s the guy who said in Sweden, he was talking about the same things, because his last name wasn’t a [traditional Swedish] last name, he felt like there was some racism going on when he was out on the pitch,” James said.
Indeed, Ibrahimovic told Canal Plus that “undercover racism” caused the Swedish media and public to treat him with less respect and reverence.
“This exists, I am 100 percent sure because I am not Andersson or Svensson. If I would be that, trust me, they would defend me even if I would rob a bank.”