Just days after President Trump complained that the NBA is behaving “more like a political organization”, Reuters has published a story anointing LeBron James, unquestionably the league’s biggest star, as the modern day heir to the mantle of Mohammad Ali. In case readers missed all the NBA drama earlier this week, LeBron James tried to convince his fellow players to cancel the post-season. Fortunately for many, most of the league’s workmen players insisted on moving forward (because most working people can’t simply forego a massive paycheck in the middle of an unprecedented crisis), and the post-season has been saved.
For now, at least.
Because as Reuters explains, LeBron isn’t stopping with the league. He’s helped create a political organization to fight voter disenfranchisement. But more importantly for the Democrats, James has once again signed on as a surrogate, just like he did in 2016, when he went out and campaigned for Hillary Clinton.
But the real utility for the Biden campaign, as far as James is concerned, is his appeal to the young voters. Though a party hack quoted by Reuters focuses on the “respect and credibility” that James enjoys within the black community.
James, who campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016, has promised to campaign for Biden this year. His influence could be critical in 2020, strategists and activists said, given the party’s need to bolster Black voter turnout, which saw its first drop in 20 years in 2016.
“LeBron is likely to have a huge impact,” said Karen Finney, a Democratic political strategist and aide on Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “He has the respect and the credibility with the Black community, so he’s a tremendous asset.”
Meanwhile, James’s “leadership” on the issue of this week’s NBA post-season walkout has inspired the White House to reach out to him as somebody they might potentially be able to work with, although LeBron has been outspoken about his opposition to the president. One Republican strategist offered an apt analysis of the basketball legend’s credibility – the fact that he doesn’t wade into every single issue.
Amy Koch, a Republican strategist who lives in Minneapolis, where Floyd’s death sparked the first wave of protests, said James’ voice would have an impact but carried some risk of alienating suburban voters who have grown frustrated and are not differentiating between peaceful protests and violent ones.
“If he can get some of that extra vote out, he will make a difference,” she said. “The difference between him and some other celebrities is he doesn’t wade into everything, so he has credibility and he’s disciplined.”
LeBron’s organization, “More Than A Vote”, isn’t solely focused on registering voters. It also hopes to recruit poll workers in under-served communities to ensure that polls are well-staffed and that people aren’t forced to wait in line for hours to vote.
“LeBron recognized that these athletes are the most trusted members of their communities,” said a person familiar with his thinking. “It is entirely about the Black community and protecting and strengthening their right to vote.”
The group will collaborate with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on a multimillion-dollar initiative to recruit young poll workers in Black communities in a dozen states, including battlegrounds such as Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin and Georgia.
A shortage of poll workers to staff in-person voting sites amid worries about the coronavirus pandemic led to dramatically fewer polling locations in some states that held primaries earlier this year, including Georgia and Wisconsin.
That led to long lines, hours-long waits and widespread confusion, particularly in hard-hit African-American communities that felt the brunt of the cutbacks.
The group previously partnered with teams in Los Angeles and Atlanta to turn stadiums into polling places, and worked on an effort to help the formerly incarcerated restore their voting rights in Florida.
Of course, LeBron’s focus on fighting for justice ends at the US border. Remember last fall when he kowtowed to the Communist Party during the Daryl Morey Tweet fiasco, and even suggested that “there are some negatives” to freedom of speech?
At least LeBron’s new BLM activist friends agree with him on that point.