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LeBron James, THE KING from NBA, emerges as potent political force ahead of November U.S. election

(Reuters) - Two years after a conservative commentator told LeBron James to “shut up and dribble,” the NBA star has become an increasingly influential political force as issues of racial justice and voter suppression move to the forefront in the November presidential election.

LeBron James introduces U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., November 6, 2016

James, an outspoken activist and frequent critic of President Donald Trump, helped form a group that will spend millions of dollars to battle voter disenfranchisement in predominantly Black communities ahead of the Nov. 3 election between the Republican Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

He also has helped push the NBA to recognize racial justice issues and the Black Lives Matter movement, including the decision to postpone playoff games this week after a player boycott to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by police in Wisconsin.

That prompted Trump to denounce the league on Thursday, saying it was “like a political organization.”

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.”

James’ longtime activism on racial justice issues and criticism of Trump prompted white Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham in 2018 to tell him and fellow Black NBA star Kevin Durant to “shut up and dribble.”

This week, James, 35, a 16-time NBA All Star who is considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time, reacted angrily to the shooting on Sunday of Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which sparked days of civil unrest.

The incident recalled the police killing of another Black man, George Floyd, in Minnesota in May that sparked anti-racism demonstrations in many U.S. cities. Blake’s shooting reverberated through U.S. professional sports, with leagues postponing games and practices.

“WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT,” tweeted James, whose Los Angeles Lakers are vying for the National Basketball Association title.

James’ leadership on the issue got the attention of the White House, with adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, saying in a televised interview on Thursday that he would reach out to James to see what both sides could work on together.

Biden said on Thursday he was arranging a call with the NBA after it reached out to discuss the boycotts. He did not elaborate, and a spokesman for his campaign declined to do so as well.


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