OAKLAND, Calif. — The list of reasons for LeBron James’ poor showing in Game 1 of the NBA Finals is long.
The Cleveland Cavaliers star couldn’t stop Kevin Durant. He couldn’t stop gift-wrapping turnovers, eight in all for a Cavs team that finished with 20 and saw them turn into 21 Warriors points.
But for anyone wondering if the events that led into the Finals opener were having a ripple effect on his play, if James might be lacking focus because of the hate crime that happened on Wednesday when someone spray-painted a racist slur on the front gate of his Los Angeles home, at least one of his teammates says that’s simply not the case.
“I felt like he was able to move past it, and be a professional,” veteran Cavs guard Dahntay Jones told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s something he dealt with on that day. He dealt with it. It just happened that he had to do media on that day (and speak on it). He dealt with it, moved past it, and that’s where we are. It didn’t carry over.”
The same can’t be said about the discussion surrounding James.
Despite the widespread praise for James’ reaction to the situation, his Wednesday media session in which he used the incident to offer a reminder that racism knows no bounds, Fox Sports One personality Jason Whitlock was highly critical of James during a segment on Thursday. James’ exorbitant wealth and lavish lifestyle, Whitlock argued, means his assertion that “being black is America is tough” rings hollow.
As James had explained, his decision to speak openly on the matter was rooted in the belief that racist acts of all kinds should be exposed. He cited the 1955 lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till as a prime example, as his mother chose to leave her son’s casket open to ensure that the truth of the tragedy wasn’t forgotten. Nonetheless, Whitlock took exception to the Till comparison.
This man getting (racist slurs) spray painted on his front door, that he never saw, (that) his staff cleaned up, it’s an inconvenience,” Whitlock said. “It’s not racism. ... LeBron was inconvenienced.”
To which Fox’s Chris Broussard replied, “It is racism. They didn’t spray-paint ‘jerk’ on his door.”
Jones, a 14-year journeyman who was part of the Cavs’ 2016 title team and who was re-signed in mid-April to add bench depth, grew more and more frustrated as he watched the show.
“Money does not make you immune to insensitivities or ignorance,” said Jones, a 35-year-old African-American. “It still has an impact on your family, and it’s still uncomfortable. People asked (James) about it. He gave his opinion, and he said that he made a (comparison) to Emmett Till. He just said what came to his mind. He didn’t say it was the same thing as Emmett Till.
“He (said), ‘We have to make sure we bring these issues to the forefront, and we have to speak on them. And we have to not brush them under the rug. …(Whitlock) tried to push it, and make it seem like it doesn’t exist for him because he has money. No, it exists. Broussard was speaking truth. …I guess for (Whitlock’s) ratings, he just wanted to shut it down because Broussard never had a chance (to talk). He took the (stance) of ‘This is my show, I can interrupt you.’.. It was disrespectful, I thought.”
Jones’ hope is that the discussion, however contentious, leads to much-needed progress.
“It’s exposure so we can keep dialogue open and we can collectively get rid of the ignorance,” he said. “That’s our goal, to collectively make this world a better place and keep talking about it and not sweep it under the rug and act like it doesn’t exist.”