As a world-renowned basketball star, when LeBron James talks millions listen. And unlike many other athletes, James has been quite vocal about social, political and cultural issues that he feels are important to him. That is why ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith appears to be frustrated that the NBA player has gone mum on a significant current topic — the COVID-19 vaccines.
During the Tuesday, March 9, airing of his daily ESPN sports talk show “First Take,” Smith addressed James’ non-committal stance, disagreeing with the 17-time NBA All-Star’s declaration that he will be keeping his decision about whether to get the vaccine private. In Smith’s opinion, James, as well as other athletes, should utilize their considerably large platform to inspire people to get the vaccine. He said that James, in particular, had a responsibility as a role model in the Black community to publicly support it.
“So we get back to LeBron James, and I say this to LeBron James, my brother, all of our brothers, who’s an incredibly, incredibly influential figure, I would say to him, he has taken positions on many, many, many things of incredible importance to our community,” Smith said. “One could easily argue when you see the amount of deaths that have come associated with COVID-19, it’s very little that he has encountered that is more challenging or daunting than this, and if you could speak up about those things, you just might want to think about speaking up about this.”
James was asked if he would take the shot after the March 7 NBA All-Star Game last weekend, and he gave an uncharacteristically reserved answer.
“That’s a conversation that my family and I will have. Pretty much keep that to a private thing.” He added, “Obviously, I saw [NBA commissioner Adam Silver] had his comments about the vaccination, but things like that, when you decide to do something, that’s a conversation between you and your family and not for everybody. I’ll keep it that way.”
Back in December, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams appealed to James to “lead by example” by taking the COVID-19 vaccine in an appearance on the KTLA 5 Morning News in Los Angeles.
“LeBron James, I know you’ve been a big supporter of masks. I want to know when you’re going to take the shot,” Adams said. “Not the basketball shot, but the COVID shot. Because I did it because I know it’s safe, and we want to make sure people understand this is how we end the pandemic.”
He ended his plea by repeating, “Black people are dying.”
As of this writing, James has not responded to either Smith’s or Adams’ statements.
Meanwhile, the NBA has produced several different public service announcements including notable players, such as Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Gregg Popovich, in order to promote the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine to the public.
Last month ESPN reported that the NBA has attempted to reach out to the agents of their top stars to have them take part in PSAs about vaccinations, and the response was “lukewarm.” Agents and players told the sports network that “player apprehensions about receiving the vaccine are consistent with those that also exist in Black communities throughout the country.”
There were differing opinions about Smith’s statement on social media, and Twitter seemed to go both ways about LeBron’s decision whether to take the shot was concerned.
“There are a lot of health care workers still on the fence about taking the vaccine,” one user said. “Myself included. Each person should be respected to make their own person decision regarding this vaccine. LeBron is extremely cautious about what he puts in his body so I’m not surprised.”
Another poster saw both sides of issue, saying, “I respect LeBron on how he feels but I must say that we do need him to encourage others it’s not his job but people look to him as a leader in our community. Me myself I will be getting my final shot on Thursday no issues.”
However, one commenter felt Smith was unfairly picking on James, particularly when he is not the only prominent Black sports star that could speak on the benefits of the vaccine. “Why ask @KingJames to step forward? @TigerWoods Michael Jordan @JerryRice and many other influential black male voices with platforms are constantly missing on the issues.”