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LOS ANGELES — After answering questions about the Los Angeles Lakers’ 128-109 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, LeBron James turned things around on the reporters in the room with a query of his own.
Why, James wanted to know, had he not been asked about a photograph that recently surfaced showing Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, at the age of 14, peering over a crowd of white students who were attempting to block six Black students from entering the doors of North Little Rock High School in 1957?
“I got one question for you guys before you guys leave. I was thinking when I was on my way over here, I was wondering why I haven’t gotten a question from you guys about the Jerry Jones photo,” James said. “But when the Kyrie [Irving] thing was going on, you guys were quick to ask us questions about that.”
On Nov. 5, after the Brooklyn Nets announced a suspension for James’ former teammate after Irving shared a link to a documentary containing antisemitic tropes on social media, James was asked why he believed so few players around the league had commented on Irving’s post and subsequent comments.
“Me personally, I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race. To Jewish communities, to Black communities, to Asian communities. You guys know where I stand,” James said at the time. “I believe what Kyrie did caused some harm to a lot of people. And he has since, over the last — I think it was today, or yesterday — he apologized. But he caused some harm, and I think it’s unfortunate.”
On Nov. 23, The Washington Post published a story examining Jones’ track record of failing to hire Black coaches during his tenure owning the Cowboys. Included within the story was the black-and-white photo depicting a young Jones observing the harassment of the Black students a couple of yards in front of him.
Addressing reporters at the conclusion of his postgame news conference Wednesday, James said, “When I watch Kyrie talk and he says, ‘I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things that we’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, as someone with power and a platform, when we do something wrong, or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage, it’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.
“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, photo — and I know it was years and years ago and we all make mistakes, I get it — but it seems like it’s just been buried under, like, ‘Oh, it happened. OK, we just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”
Jones, when asked about the 65-year-old photograph, told reporters last week that he was merely present as a curious onlooker and did not engage in discrimination against the Black students.
“I didn’t know at the time the monumental event really that was going on,” Jones said. “I’m sure glad that we’re a long way from that. I am. That would remind me [to] just continue to do everything we can to not have those kinds of things happen.”
James grew up in Akron, Ohio, about an hour from Cleveland where the Browns played their NFL home games, but identified as a Cowboys fan as a child, explaining as an adult that he just wanted to be associated with a winner while enduring a hardscrabble upbringing. In October, in an Instagram Live appearance with longtime friend and business partner Maverick Carter to promote “The Shop” partnering with Amazon to provide an alternate telecast for “Thursday Night Football,” James explained why he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys.
“I had to sit out on the Cowboys, man,” James said when asked whether he was still a Cowboys fan. “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner. … The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”
Jones, in 2017 when many NFL players began kneeling during the national anthem in a gesture of solidarity for then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest against police brutality, said he would not “tolerate” any of his players “disrespecting the flag.”