LeBron James has responded fiercely to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s criticism of his political activism with a promise that he will never just shut up and dribble.
The Los Angeles Lakers superstar also pointed out that Ibrahimovic clearly didn’t feel the same way about spotlighting social injustices when the 39-year-old called out racism in his native Sweden just three years ago.
The AC Milan striker criticised James, 36, and other socially conscious athletes on Thursday in an interview with Discovery Plus. Ibrahimovic called it ‘a mistake’ for James and other athletes to get involved in political causes, saying they should ‘just do what you do best, because it doesn’t look good.’
James – who has backed numerous initiatives pursuing social justice, voting rights and other progressive causes – responded forcefully to Ibrahimovic’s stance after the Lakers’ 102-93 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.
LeBron James (right) has hit back at Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s (left) claims that athletes should avoid activism and stick to ‘what you are good at’
James has stood up for a number of causes and funds the I Promise School in his native Ohio
James’ most recent Instagram story says: ‘When y’all gone learn that I am more than an athlete’
‘I would never shut up about things that are wrong,’ said James. ‘I preach about my people and I preach about equality, social injustice, racism, systematic voter suppression, things that go on in our community,’ James added.
‘I know what’s going on still, because I have a group of 300-plus kids at my school that’s going through the same thing, and they need a voice, and I’m their voice. I’ll use my platform to continue to shed light on everything that’s going on around this country and around the world.
‘There’s no way I would ever just stick to sports, because I understand how powerful this platform and my voice is.’
In addition to his comments on Friday night, James’ most recent Instagram story on Saturday morning is a video saying: ‘When y’all gone learn that… I am more than an athlete.’
His story also currently promotes Black History Month, his More than a Vote campaign as well as his I Promise School.
James has previously spoken in support of a number of social causes including the ‘More than a Vote’ campaign during the 2020 US election
James funds the I Promise School in his native Akron, Ohio, aimed at at-risk children and students’ families to ensure a stable learning experience at home.
The third-leading scorer in NBA history also backs initiatives pursuing social justice and voting rights.
Last year, he responded to President Donald Trump’s claim that he won’t watch any more NBA games because people kneeled to protest systemic racism during the national anthem by saying: ‘I really don’t think the basketball community are sad about losing his viewership.’
James also backed the More than a Vote campaign during the 2020 US election, in which the organisation recruited 40,000 poll workers.
The Lakers legend also played a key role in ensuring that 23 out of 30 NBA teams used their home arenas or practice facilities as voting sites.
James’ I Promise School is aimed at at-risk children and students’ families to ensure a stable learning experience at home
James also made it clear he was aware of comments made in 2018 by Ibrahimovic, the Swedish-born son of a Bosnian father and a Croatian mother.
‘He’s the guy who said in Sweden, he was talking about the same things, because his last name wasn’t a (traditional Swedish) last name, he felt like there was some racism going on when he was out on the pitch,’ James said.
‘I speak from a very educated mind. I’m kind of the wrong guy to actually go at, because I do my homework.’
Indeed, Ibrahimovic told Canal Plus that ‘undercover racism’ caused the Swedish media and public to treat him with less respect and reverence: ‘This exists, I am 100 per cent sure, because I am not Andersson or Svensson. If I would be that, trust me, they would defend me even if I would rob a bank.’
The pair overlapped for 16 months in Los Angeles when Ibrahimovic played for LA Galaxy
James and Ibrahimovic overlapped in Los Angeles for about 16 months from the summer of 2018 until November 2019, when Ibrahimovic went back to Europe.
While Zlatan was unable to carry the Galaxy to an MLS Cup title despite playing exceptionally during two largely frustrating seasons, LeBron won the Lakers’ 17th NBA title in his second season with the club in 2020.
Yet the Swedish forward – who has previously played for Manchester United, PSG, Juventus and Barcelona in an incredible career – is still at the top of his game and is AC Milan’s top scorer this season as they challenge rivals Inter for the Serie A title.
He has a history of clashing with other sporting superstars too, most recently with former Utd team-mate Romelu Lukaku in an astonishing war of words on the pitch last month.
The 39-year-old has also taken a swipe at former boss Pep Guardiola by labelling him ‘immature’, while he has clashed with the likes of Joey Barton, Nedum Onuoha and Marcos Rojo in a long history of rows.
In an interview (left), Ibrahimovic said about James: ‘I don’t like when people with a “status” speak about politics’ but has previously spoken out against racism in his native Sweden (right)
Romelu Lukaku and Ibrahimovic bumped heads during a heated on-field exchange in January
They also share remarkable similarities as two astonishing athletes who have remained among the world’s best players deep into their 30s.
Dennis Schroder, the Lakers’ German point guard, gave his support to James and confirmed the obvious truth that Ibrahimovic’s attitude is decidedly not shared by many European athletes.
‘Every athlete can use our platform and try to make change in this world,’ Schroder said. ‘Zlatan, he’s a little different. Unique player, unique character.’