I’ve spent the better part of the past 5 years hating on Cleveland, Ohio, and pretty much anything to do with it for admittedly very few actual reasons of any substance.

To be honest, I think it originally started as an extended bit because the person I was head over heels for at the time was just way too proud of being from Cleveland – seriously if you’re reading this, I maintain that no one should be that into where they’re from! – but the bit just eventually became part of my personal brand in the weird ways that college social media use manifests and it became too much work to backtrack.

And yet, I realize in this moment of racial reckoning for America that if white people can spend a minute admitting they were wrong about systemic racism, I can maybe take some time to do some owning up, too.

There are still plenty of reasons to think Cleveland is a literal trash fire, but I can at least recognize that I was wrong in unnecessarily hating on one person in particular: LeBron James.

I truly could not tell you exactly why I didn’t like him.

Maybe it’s defensiveness, and an unwillingness to let anyone not from the Chicago Bulls be considered the basketball GOAT, especially with a spotty Finals record (I’m an elitist! I’m sorry). Maybe it’s that people who talk about themselves in the third person make me itchy. Maybe it’s the same reason I didn’t like Cleveland – people who liked him just liked him so annoyingly much. It’s probably a weird combination of all of the above.

He’s never been one to just “shut up and dribble.”

And yet, for all my annoyance,  I have to take a step back and admit that LeBron James has been on the right side of history – with one notable exception about Hong Kong, which I’ll get into later – far more so than a lot of his NBA peers, for quite some time.

He’s never been one to just “shut up and dribble.”

While playing for the Miami Heat in 2012, James and his teammates were among the first to speak out openly about police brutality and the murder of Trayvon Martin, when they symbolically posed in their hoodies for a tribute post captioned “#WeAreTrayvonMartin.” He and Kyrie Irving similarly brought attention to the murder of Eric Garner in 2014 with pre-game warmups emblazoned with “I Can’t Breathe.”

He’s redefined players’ media strategy and amplified Black creatives with his SpringHill Entertainment production company. He’s made enormous philanthropic donations; his most famous charitable endeavor was founding the I Promise school for at-risk kids in his hometown of Akron, OH, and providing the inaugural year students with full-tuition scholarships to Kent State and the University of Akron.

He’s even good on the petty things, defending his rival Stephen Curry while calling Donald Trump a “bum” in the most retweeted athlete tweet of 2017.

James’s latest endeavor is perhaps the one bright spot of 2020: his next opponent is voter suppression.

Teaming up with fellow NBA players including Trae Young, Draymond Green, Jalen Rose, and WNBA star Skylar Diggins-Smith, James has formed a group called More Than A Vote. The group hopes to mobilize against America’s long-standing history of restricting votes in areas made up of predominantly people of color.

James’s latest endeavor is perhaps the one bright spot of 2020.

With an increasing demand in absentee ballots brought on by the pandemic that most states are unprepared for and already criminally long lines to vote due to restricted polling sites in states like Georgia and Kentucky, the group’s efforts will be key in ensuring a free and fair election this fall.

As James himself tweeted, “They say ‘go out and vote?’ What about asking if how we vote is also structurally racist?”

[Tweet text: Everyone talking about “how do we fix this?” They say “go out and vote?” What about asking if how we vote is also structurally racist?] / Via @KingJames / Twitter.
[Tweet text: Everyone talking about “how do we fix this?” They say “go out and vote?” What about asking if how we vote is also structurally racist?] / Via @KingJames / Twitter.

Don’t get me wrong: LeBron James is not perfect, nor will he ever be my favorite player (I love you Giannis please don’t leave Milwaukee when I finally have a reason to like my home team!!).

His misstep on China when he called Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of the Hong Kong protesters “misinformed” this past fall left a bad taste in my mouth. Hong Kong protesters have been quick to point out that his voting rights efforts now are hypocritical in the face of his apparent dismissal of their pro-democracy struggles.

Don’t get me wrong: LeBron James is not perfect.

It was frustrating to feel like someone who’s otherwise been a consistent champion for social justice in the US valued profit over principle when confronted with the dilemma overseas. But I also recognize that James, like the rest of us, is still growing as well. And given his track record, I’m hopeful that this is a stance he comes to realize is consistent with his apparent values system, and one he eventually revisits, too.

All in all, it goes without saying that it’s been easier to admit this since James is no longer playing for Cleveland, but: I accept and own up to the fact that my hating on James has been largely unwarranted, and I’m sorry to my fellow NBA fans and my insufferable Cleveland friends who don’t even like basketball but feel emotionally tied to James, for that.

I’m excited to see what his new organization does, and how he continues to bring social justice to the forefront in the years to come.

And now that that’s off my chest, I’m going to go binge The Last Dance for the third time in a month until the NBA comes back because, even as a reluctant LeBron James fan, Jordan’s still the GOAT.

Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

  • Sumaia Masoom is the proud daughter of Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants and a graduate of Northwestern University's School of Education & Social Policy. A product of rural Wisconsin and later the Chicago immigrant & refugee rights organizing community, she's equal parts passionate about college sports and diversity & inclusion – of identities, em-dashes, and free food in lunch meetings.