Nope, MAGA, King James will not shut up. Credit: Jamie Lamor Thompson

For the record, I’ve never cheered for a team on which LeBron James has played, on account of the fact that I’m a die-hard Chicago Bulls fan and he’s broken my heart far too many times for me to count.

I’m still not officially over game four of the 2015 playoffs where the Bulls were up by two with seconds left, and the ball came to LeBron, with Jimmy Butler draped all over him, and . . .

Well, like I said, I’m still not over what happened next . . .

Actually, now that I think about it, I rooted for LeBron’s Cavs over the Warriors in the 2016 NBA finals. But that was only because Golden State had the audacity to break the record for most regular-season wins previously set by the ’96 Bulls. A team even Stephen Curry must acknowledge as the greatest ever.

No, by and large, LeBron James joins a long list of superstars—from Wilt Chamberlain to Larry Bird to Isiah Thomas—who have used their mind-blowing talents to beat my beloved Bulls.

I realize not every Chicagoan sees it this way. This town is crawling with front-runners who openly root for LeBron’s Lakers.

Like a certain ex-Marine I’ll call Jauwan, who’s been known to occasionally send me trash-talking texts whenever my Bulls hit a low point. Like last week’s game against Cleveland. Still not talking about that. 

Well, I could go on and on. But enough basketball chitchat for today.

Despite all the trauma LeBron has given the Bulls, when it comes to his off-the-court activities, I just may be one of his biggest fans.

This is a man who grew up in poverty—no father in the house—and willed his way to excellence. And once he made his millions, he never forgot where he came from. He helped build a public school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, with a heavy emphasis on the arts and conflict resolution. And he’s been courageously speaking out on behalf of Black Americans against police brutality for years.

As such, James has become public enemy number one to MAGA. Having replaced Colin Kaepernick as the Black athlete MAGA loves to hate the most. Quite an honor, in a backhanded sort of way.

Over the last few days, MAGA’s hatred of LeBron has been on full display. After a white police officer in Columbus, Ohio, shot and killed Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, LeBron tweeted . . .

“YOU’RE NEXT #ACCOUNTABILITY.” over a photo of the cop.

Clearly, it was an impulsive tweet, which he deleted as footage emerged of the killing, in which the cop appears to intervene as Bryant attacks another Black teenager with a knife.

James then tweeted: “I’m so damn tired of seeing Black people killed by police. I took the tweet down because it’s being used to create more hate. This isn’t about one officer. It’s about the entire system and they always use our words to create more racism. I am so desperate for more ACCOUNTABILITY.”

In short, he displayed more regret for a spur-of-the-moment tweet than Donald Trump has ever displayed in a lifetime of saying or tweeting nasty lies. Trump still hasn’t apologized for buying a full-page ad in the New York Times calling for the execution of the Central Park Five, even though they turned out to be innocent of the charges.

Over the last few days, Senators Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz and other MAGA members have blasted James in tweets, articles, Instagram posts, and TikTok clips, culminating in a statement from their grand imperial leader himself. Yes, Trump weighed in with this . . .

“LeBron James’ RACIST rants are divisive, nasty, insulting, and demeaning. He may be a great basketball player, but he is doing nothing to bring our Country together.”

Ah, yes, advice on bringing the country together from the president who did so much to tear it apart.

This episode reveals MAGA’s curious attitude toward race in America. They say LeBron’s wealth and fame prove that race no longer matters. And that, in fact, LeBron James should be thanking America for making him so rich and so famous, instead of criticizing it.

But when it comes to lefties criticizing MAGA’s Black leaders—oh, my goodness, suddenly race in America matters a lot.

Think about it. When a Democrat dares to criticize Senator Tim Scott, Congressman Burgess Owens, or another prominent Black Republican, MAGA cries—you’re just picking on them ’cause they’re Black!

In short, when LeBron James or D. Wade or Curry or any Black basketball player speaks up about police brutality, it’s “shut up and dribble.” To quote Laura Ingraham.

But if you criticize a Black Republican? It’s cancel culture!

It’s an updated version of the tactic employed by Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas at his Senate confirmation hearing in 1991.

Thomas’s position was that America no longer needed affirmative action. ’Cause racial discrimination had dissipated. And getting a break actually hurts Black people more than it helps them. Though you never hear a white guy complaining about getting into a highly selective university as a legacy applicant.

But when Thomas’s nomination was in doubt after Anita Hill testified he had sexually harassed her, Thomas did a flip-flop. And he played the race card—complaining he was the victim of a “high-tech” lynching.

So Thomas’s logic was—race doesn’t matter when I make my rulings against ordinary Black people. But it matters a lot when my behavior may keep me from getting what I want.

With his clever rhetorical twists, Thomas won the Senate confirmation votes he needed to make it to the highest court in the land. Where he’s used his vote to, among other things, try to eviscerate affirmative action on the grounds that, you know, race doesn’t matter.

Back to LeBron . . .

He’s become a pawn in the larger culture wars that Republicans are waging to take back Congress, the Senate and, ultimately, the White House.

Their strategy plays like this—try to keep Black people from voting with new laws that discourage early voting, while firing up the white base by frightening and/or enraging them over LeBron James. 

The Republicans keep saying race doesn’t matter. Even as they exploit racial fears to win back the political power that they lost.

It’s a cynical game, but it’s the only one they’ve got.   v