LeBron James on Friday dismissed Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s criticism of his social activism and said the AC Milan star’s comments were hypocritical.
Ibrahimovic, whose time playing for his former team, the LA Galaxy, coincided with James’ first season with the Lakers, criticized James on Thursday in an interview with UEFA for Discovery+ in Sweden, saying it was a “mistake” and “doesn’t look good” when James and other “famous” people get involved in politics.
“He was the same guy who said when he was back in Sweden … because his last name wasn’t a certain last name, that he felt there was some racism going on when he was out on the pitch,” James said. “I speak from a very educated mind, so I’m kind of the wrong guy to actually go at because I do my homework.”
Several years ago, Ibrahimovic said he was subject to “undercover racism” in his native Sweden because his Bosnian roots gave him a surname that doesn’t sound traditionally Swedish.
“I am not Andersson or Svensson,” Ibrahimovic told Canal+ in 2018, referring to what he considered racist treatment from the media. “If I would be that, trust me, they would defend me even if I would rob a bank. They would defend me, I tell you.”
James was undeterred by Ibrahimovic’s stance against him and explained why he approaches off-the-court issues in the manner that he does.
“I would never shut up about things that are wrong,” James said following the Lakers’ 102-93 win over the Trail Blazers on Friday night. “I preach about my people, and I preach about equality. Social injustice. Racism. Systematic voter suppression. Things that go on in our community.
“Because I was a part of my community at one point and saw the things that was going on, and I know what’s going on still because I have a group of 300-plus kids at my school that are going through the same thing, and they need a voice. And I’m their voice. I’m their voice, and I use my platform to continue to shed light on everything that may be going on, not only in my community, but around this country and around the world.
“So, there’s no way I would ever just stick to sports, because I understand how this platform and how powerful my voice is. “
James went on to credit former WNBA player Renee Montgomery, who became a part-owner of the Atlanta Dream on Friday after the league put pressure on former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a Republican who opposed WNBA players’ racial justice initiatives last summer, to sell her share of the team.
“You can just ask Renee Montgomery, if I would have shut up and just dribbled [what would have happened],” James said, later referring to the two-time WNBA champion as a “beautiful Black woman.”
“It makes me feel proud to be a part of a generation where our voices are heard and guys are speaking from an educated mindset,” James said. “But more importantly, when you speak from your heart, it rings bells even louder.
“And we’ve got a lot of guys speaking from the heart that didn’t believe they had a voice at one point in time, or now they’re coming into it and they see that they can have a voice and that their voice really matters. That makes me proud.”
James’ I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, not only educates hundreds of at-risk children in his hometown, but also provides affordable housing, a meal program and job training for the students’ families.
His More Than a Vote organization was also instrumental in mobilizing more than 40,000 volunteers to work at polling centers in November’s general election in an effort to thwart voter suppression.
“As athletes, we’ve been hearing this for a long time,” James said. “You should [feel] privileged. You should be thankful to be able to dribble a ball or run a football or be able to do the 100-yard dash or be able to swing a baseball bat and things of that nature. You shouldn’t be able to speak about anything else, no matter if it’s right or wrong, you should just do that. But that’s not the case. That’s not the case anymore. As long as I’m around, it won’t be the case for a long time.”