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Sports Anti-LeBron James rant only serves to strengthen NBA star’s brand and cause

16:01  19 february  2018
16:01  19 february  2018 Source:   thestar.com

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LeBron James was the target of a rant by Fox News host Laura Ingraham. Her tactic backfired, however, as she unwittingly boosted James' business interests and charitable efforts.© Darron Cummings LeBron James was the target of a rant by Fox News host Laura Ingraham. Her tactic backfired, however, as she unwittingly boosted James' business interests and charitable efforts.

When Fox News host Laura Ingraham targeted LeBron James in an on-air rant, the conservative commentator pulled pages from a pair of well-worn playbooks.

Rappers, boxers and mixed martial artists have long picked fights with better-known rivals to raise their own profiles. Last year, UFC star Conor McGregor trash-talked his way to $30-million (U.S.) payday against pro boxer Floyd Mayweather.

Meanwhile, U.S. president Donald Trump has bickered with a litany of African-American sports figures, casting them as ungrateful or unpatriotic and scoring points with a base of supporters that skews white and anti-diversity.

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So when James starred in an online video featuring him criticizing Trump’s brand of populism — “(Trump) really don’t give a ---- about the people” — Ingraham pounced.

First, she assailed James’ comments as “unintelligible” and “barely grammatical,” then suggested he wasn’t authorized to talk politics.

“You’re great players, but no one voted for you,” Ingraham said. “Keep the political commentary to yourself. Or, as someone once said, ‘Shut up and dribble.’ ”

If Ingraham hoped her clip would resonate beyond Fox News’ echo chamber, she succeeded. The video quickly rippled through social media, shared widely by people disagreeing with her.

But in blasting the Cleveland Cavaliers’ superstar, Ingraham unwittingly boosted his off-court business interests and bolstered his burgeoning identity as an athlete who uses his influence to combat social inequality.

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James, who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, acknowledged the momentum Ingraham has given him during a pre-all-star game press conference.

“So thank you, whatever her name is,” James said.

“I get to sit up here and talk about what’s really important and how I can help change kids not only in America but in Brazil, in England, in Mexico and all over. So thank you.”

Sunday night, James took to the court in white shoes emblazoned with the phrase “More Than an Athlete,” which is both a personal mantra and a slogan for his production company, Uninterrupted.

Subtract race from the equation, and the details of James’ off-the-court back story could make him a hero among U.S. conservatives who lionize hard work, humble beginnings and personal responsibility. James rose from grinding poverty in Akron, Ohio, to build a nine-figure net worth without attending college, and he now funds scholarships for kids from his hometown.

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Likewise, remove race and few observers from either side of the U.S. political divide would take issue with a star athlete exploring the various dimensions of his personality. Nor would they quibble with him championing community service projects unrelated to sport.

NFL legend Peyton Manning’s sense of humour landed him a spot on Saturday Night Live, and a string of punchline-heavy TV ads for various sponsors, but didn’t earn him criticism for a failure to stick to sports. And the Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt led a $30-million fundraising drive for victims of Hurricane Harvey without worrying his race-neutral philanthropy would prompt calls for him to “shut up and sack quarterbacks.”

But we can’t factor race out of this LeBron James discussion.

Race is the active ingredient in the backlash against James and other black athletes who oppose Trump or use their fame to fight racism. It informs his critics’ inability to see his life’s trajectory as a triumph of perseverance, and his off-court business interests as proof of an entrepreneurial spirit.

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Race also blinds those critics to the fundamental similarity between Watt’s fundraising and James’ efforts to confront racism while also sending Akron kids to college. Those acts all spring from the athletes’ desire to improve communities where they grew up or currently play. In this case, the distinction between an big-hearted star giving back, and a high-paid jock straying from his lane, turns on whether that athlete uses his or her influence to combat racism.

Similarly, when NBA coaches Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich criticize the president’s racism, they earn praise from people who agree with them and silence from pundits like Ingraham, who would presumably oppose their comments as strongly as she does James’.

But where Popovich’s latest anti-Trump comments didn’t prompt a reaction from Fox News, Ingraham turned James’ interview into a promotional opportunity, though likely not the one she imagined.

Sports fans unfamiliar with James’ “Uninterrupted” venture know about it now, thanks to Ingraham’s viral rant.

Likewise, Uber, which sponsored the segment Ingraham tried to skewer, received a massive return on its marketing investment as the clip bearing the company’s logo racked up views across the internet.

And anyone thinking LeBron was just a basketball star and pitchman for Coke products now knows he’s working to build an off-court legacy that transcends his personal brand.

For her part, Ingraham still hopes to wring publicity from her shot at James. A day after blasting him, she tweeted at him asking if he would appear on her show.

He hasn’t responded.

4 teams not named the Cavs that have a real chance of signing LeBron .
One day, a Southeast Pennsylvania home remodeling company is buying billboards in Cleveland aimed at getting LeBron James to sign with the 76ers, and the next, LeBron is reportedly checking out schools in Philadelphia. It's a crazy business, this NBA free agency, even when James isn't actually a free agent yet. This summer's LeBron sweepstakes promise fireworks, but the truth of the matter is there are only a handful of teams outside of the incumbent Cleveland Cavaliers that have a legitimate shot at landing the face of the league - based on some logical factors.

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