Newsweek - - Sports - Ơ Ka­reem Ab­dul-jab­bar played cen­ter for 20 sea­sons for the NBA’S Mil­wau­kee Bucks and Los An­ge­les Lak­ers. He re­mains the NBA’S all-time lead scorer and was a record six-time NBA MVP. Since re­tir­ing, he has writ­ten 19 books, in­clud­ing Writ­ings on the Wall:

about racial in­jus­tice be­cause he also plays bas­ket­ball. I have been a jour­nal­ist and book au­thor longer than I played bas­ket­ball, yet ev­ery time I pub­licly ex­press an opin­ion, some peo­ple com­plain that my opin­ions have no va­lid­ity be­cause I was once an ath­lete. Be­cause he is so ar­tic­u­late and revered, Le­bron is help­ing to elim­i­nate that stereo­type.

I’m of­ten asked whether there’s a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence be­tween the black ath­lete ac­tivists of my era and those of to­day. In the ’60s and ’70s, there were fewer of us: Muham­mad Ali, Jim Brown, Tom­mie Smith, John Car­los and a hand­ful of oth­ers. To­day, a lot more are speak­ing out. Sadly, aside from num­bers, there’s not much dif­fer­ence be­cause so lit­tle has changed. Ath­letes are still pun­ished for us­ing their con­sti­tu­tional rights, and the things we protested 50 years ago are still hap­pen­ing. And some mem­bers of the pub­lic are more out­raged at be­ing re­minded that lit­tle has changed than the fact that lit­tle has changed. It would be easy for black ath­letes to give up in de­spair at such a re­sponse. But play­ers like Le­bron, Colin Kaeper­nick, An­drew Hawkins, Ser­ena and Venus Wil­liams, Eric Reid and many oth­ers keep fight­ing for jus­tice.

There have been mis­steps, like a me­dia ex­change in 2017 af­ter Charles Barkley called Le­bron “whiny” and “in­ap­pro­pri­ate” for pub­licly com­plain­ing about Cava­liers man­age­ment’s not se­cur­ing bet­ter play­ers. “I’m not go­ing to let him dis­re­spect my le­gacy like that,” Le­bron said. “I’m not the one who threw some­body through a win­dow. I never spit on a kid. I never had un­paid debt in Las Ve­gas. I never said, ‘I’m not a role model.’ I never showed up to All-star Week­end on Sun­day be­cause I was in Ve­gas all week­end par­ty­ing.”

Part of the an­i­mos­ity seems to stem from Barkley not in­clud­ing Le­bron in his list of five top NBA play­ers of all time. I un­der­stand an ath­lete who plays for love of the game, or for ado­ra­tion of fans, or even for money. But con­cern over one’s “le­gacy” seems short­sighted. I set a lot of records when I played, but I never played to set records. I didn’t con­cern my­self with cre­at­ing a sports le­gacy as much as I did with my le­gacy as a team­mate, a so­cial ac­tivist, a help­ful com­mu­nity mem­ber. Le­bron is all those things too, which is why wor­ry­ing about his sports le­gacy seems petty.

Le­bron’s le­gacy is as­sured. He will con­tinue to break records, per­haps even my all-time scor­ing record. When he does, I’ll be there cheer­ing him on, be­cause ev­ery time a record is bro­ken, hu­man­ity has pushed the bound­aries of what we are ca­pa­ble of.

Last year, Le­bron helped found the I Prom­ise School in Akron, Ohio, for some of the city’s un­der­priv­i­leged chil­dren. More than pro­vid­ing aca­demics, the school will also reach out to the stu­dents’ fam­i­lies to pro­vide them re­sources to im­prove their lives eco­nom­i­cally, emo­tion­ally and ed­u­ca­tion­ally. This kind of ded­i­ca­tion to com­mu­nity makes him more heroic than slam­ming a bas­ket­ball through a hoop.

Fi­nally, the GOAT ques­tion, which runs through the me­dia like a nasty STD: “Who is the Great­est of All Time?” A month ago, Le­bron claimed the ti­tle for him­self dur­ing an ESPN in­ter­view, say­ing he de­serves the ti­tle be­cause he gave Cleve­land its first cham­pi­onship in decades af­ter an im­prob­a­ble come­back from be­ing be­hind by three games to one. “That one right there made me the great­est player of all time,” he pro­claimed.

It’s a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing hear­ing him play this imag­i­nary game, which is akin to ask­ing, Which su­per­power is bet­ter, fly­ing or in­vis­i­bil­ity? I get asked this ques­tion a cou­ple times a week, and my an­swer is al­ways the same: The game has changed so much over the years that there is no lev­el­ing rubric to take into ac­count the vari­ables. So, sorry, Le­bron, you’re not the GOAT be­cause it’s a mytho­log­i­cal beast. It’s like ask­ing, How big is the horn on a uni­corn?

But Le­bron James is the hero this gen­er­a­tion has thrown up the pop chart. It’s a place he clearly has earned, and we are all bet­ter off for him be­ing there.

Le­bron’s ded­i­ca­tion to com­mu­nity makes him more HEROIC than slam­ming a bas­ket­ball through a hoop.

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