Not Running From His Words

By Michael Wallace
Updated: October 1, 2010
Miami's LeBron James listens to music after training camp at Hurlburt Field on Wednesday.

Miami's LeBron James listens to music after training camp at Hurlburt Field on Wednesday.

HURLBURT FIELD, Fl. — Heat forward LeBron James didn’t back away Thursday from comments he made during a CNN interview about race playing a factor in the backlash from his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Speaking after training camp practice, James said too much was being made of his comments to CNN during an interview that was conducted Monday during the Heat’s media day at the University of Miami but aired Wednesday night.

James and longtime business manager Maverick Carter said they believed race played a role in some of the apparent dislike for James in the aftermath of his free agent move to the Heat.

James announced the decision on a much criticized hourlong ESPN special July 8. James, an Akron, Ohio, native, spent his first seven NBA seasons in Cleveland after being taken No. 1 overall in the 2003 draft.

“I’m not going to go back on my words,” James said Thursday before he attempted to dismiss the issue. “Sometimes [race] does play a part.

People are looking too far into it. I said what I had to say [Monday], and I’ll continue to move on.”

In the interview with CNN, James and Carter were asked if they thought race played a role in James’ popularity taking a significant hit in the months since he joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form arguably the league’s most polarizing team.

James was later voted among one of the world’s most disliked sports figures based on a poll by the Q Scores Company last month. According to theQ score, James’ support drastically dwindled among white fans but only slightly dipped among black followers.

Neither James nor Carter suggested that race was a significant factor but did believe it played a role in how James recently has been perceived.

“I think so at times,” James said during the CNN interview. “It’s always, you know, a race factor.”

Among some of the most vocal critics of James, however, have been black sports icons, including Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who is white, was fined $100,000 by the NBA in July for offensive statements he made about James’s departure.

In the minutes after James made his announcement July 8, news cameras captured images of some fans burning replicas of James’ No. 23 Cavaliers jerseys in Cleveland.

James initially took exception to the views of those three Hall of Fame players. But James also said Monday that he respects Jordan, Barkley and Johnson and credited them with paving the way for current players. James said he has not talked to Gilbert since signing with Miami.

Since training camp practices started Tuesday, James repeatedly has declined to talk about the events that played out in summer free agency.

But he quickly addressed the CNN interview and shifted to other topics.

His teammates and coaches came to James’ defense but also made it clear that the issue hasn’t been a distraction during training camp.

Asked about James’ comments after practice, coach Erik Spoelstra said he couldn’t imagine how James felt about the backlash.

“I don’t walk in LeBron’s shoes,” Spoelstra said. “From our standpoint, we’ve moved on from the summer.”

Bosh also made a bold decision to leave Toronto after seven seasons and was criticized by some team officials on his way to Miami. But the reaction to Bosh’s departure paled in comparison to what James has experienced in recent months.

“Different people have their different opinions,” Bosh said. “If [race] is a factor, that’s something that is imbedded and people don’t really realize it. In America, there was some [racial] tension before.

“But hopefully we’ve moved past that.”

Wade, who has grown close to James on and off the court, said James has not allowed outside issues to disrupt his internal focus on getting acclimated.

“I really don’t get into it,” Wade said. “It’s really unfortunate, some of the backlash that came from his decision.

But as LeBron said, he’s happy with his decision. And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters. You see the smile on his face, the laughter. It makes you feel good.”