Weekend Winner: LeBron The "Runaway Slave"

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In sports, everyone is a winner-some people just win better than others. Like Jesse Jackson's well-timed statement on LeBron James, which turned a controversy over a poor business decision into a firestorm over anything but.

I say "well-timed," because though you can say a lot about Jackson, you can't say he doesn't have his finger on the pulse of popular attention. It was announced that LeBron's Decision pulled in the third best cable ratings of the year, behind only the Pro Bowl (what?) and an episode of iCarly (double what?). Just hours after the ratings came in, there was the Reverend Jackson, releasing a statement blasting Dan Gilbert's sour grapes criticism of James.


Jackson's statement has some valid points that no one's going to even notice (i.e. if Gilbert thinks LeBron quit during the playoffs, why offer him a max deal to come back, and why fire the coach?). No, here's the money passage that he had to know would grab headlines:

He speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. His feelings of betrayal personify a slave master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave. This is an owner employee relationship—between business partners—and LeBron honored his contract.


Let's set aside the inappropriate comparison to a "plantation," because, and you history majors should be able to back me up, very few slaves were deified and paid eight figures. And the comparison goes out the window with the Bobcats and their African-American owner forcing Tyrus Thomas to stay on their plantation for the next five years.

No, what it comes down to, is that the Reverend Jesse Jackson really doesn't understand basketball all that well.

No one is taking LeBron to task for leaving Cleveland. (No one except maybe Cleveland fans, and that's more of a "spurned ex-girlfriend" situation than a "runaway slave" one.) It comes down to not dicking around a fanbase that's been loyal to a fault by not letting them know your plans one way or another. It comes down to not publicly humiliating them by dumping them on national TV, with nary a kind word for the seven-year relationship you built.

The white owner/black-athlete-as-commodity relationship is one that has persisted in sports for decades, and it's not instructive to dismiss it out of hand (especially as Jason Whitlock says he's received a "mountain of emails" from people taking Rev. Jackson's side). But it's best to just let Jackson do what he does best, and insert himself into the national discussion without acknowledging him.


There's no sense getting involved for the primary parties. It's a business decision, and let's leave it at that. While Gilbert has the right to feel hurt, James has the right to burn all the bridges he wants, and the talent to do it without damaging his bottom line.

Ignore Jackson. For Dan Gilbert, it's an argument he can't win. And for LeBron James? Well, to quote one former slave who now owns his own plantation, "Republicans buy shoes, too."


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