BBC comes under fire after mistaking LeBron James for Kobe Bryant

Britain’s public broadcaster draws ire for mistake in news clip after Bryant’s death it blamed on ‘human error’.

NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers (L) and All-Star LeBron James of the Miami Heat share a laugh during the NBA All-Star basketball game in Houston, Texas, February 17, 2013. REUTERS/L
Bryant, left, and James, right share a laugh during the NBA All-Star basketball game in Houston, Texas [File: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters]

Britain’s public service broadcaster has come under fire after mistaking LeBron James for 41-year-old Kobe Bryant, the NBA star who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

In a video clip aired on a BBC news programme, a voiceover outlined Bryant’s life and achievements while the footage showed various scenes of James on a basketball court.

During his career, Bryant played for the LA Lakers, which is also James’s team. But the two men do not resemble one another.

Social media users have criticised the BBC for its error, with some accusing the broadcaster of incompetence as others said the mistake was an example of racism within the media.

Meanwhile, the US network MSNBC also faced a backlash after one of its presenters, Alison Morris, appeared to use racist language while talking about Bryant.

In the clip, which has been widely shared online, the presenter said that Bryant was “perfectly cast on the Los Angeles n*****s, Los Angeles Lakers.”

Morris denied using the word, writing on Twitter that she stuttered.

The BBC apologised for its “human error which fell below our usual standards on the programme”.

Opposition Labour Party politician David Lammy led criticism of the British network, writing on Twitter: “Kobe Bryant and LeBron James don’t even look similar. If the BBC hired more black producers and editors, appalling mistakes like this simply would not happen.”

According to reports, ethnic minorities are severely underrepresented in Britain’s media. Of the total number of journalists in the industry, for example, 76 percent are white, Ofcom recently found.

At the BBC, the number of non-white journalists and media workers off-screen is fewer than 10 percent, according to the broadcaster’s annual report.

Nadine White, a journalist with the Huffington Post, said: “Deeply unfortunate mix up from BBC. They got two big, black men confused and featured Lebron James instead of late Kobe Bryant in this news segment. This only adds to our collective grief at this time. Has a correction and apology been issued yet? Shame.”

Another social media user described the move as a “microaggression.”

“I’m sorry but the BBC using a clip of Lebron James when paying homage to Kobe Bryant is a form of microagression. If a white star had passed they would not have made such a mistake,” said Twitter user Esther.

Khaled Beydoun, a law professor and author, said: “How can you confuse one of the most recognized men in the world with another most recognized man in the world – who look nothing alike. Not all Black people look the same, BBC.”

A few people, however, downplayed the error.

Tom Warren, an editor at The Verge, tweeted: “BBC video editor scrambled to get stock footage of Kobe Bryant and picked out LeBron James footage instead. I bet this happened because James passed Kobe Bryant for third on the all-time NBA scoring list last night, so it would have been freshly tagged. Still, a rookie mistake.”

Bryant died near Los Angeles in the crash along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

He quit basketball in 2016 as the third-leading scorer in NBA history.

He held that place in the league scoring ranks until Saturday night when James passed him.

“Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames,” Bryant wrote in his last tweet. “Much respect my brother.”

Since Bryant’s death, photos have emerged of James crying having learned of the fatal crash.

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, left, defends Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
The two players are both considered basketball legends [File: Danny Moloshok/The Associated Press]
Source: Al Jazeera