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LeBron James isn't Kunta Kinte

Kunta Kinte became a household name in 1977 thanks to the mini-series “Roots.” That epic tale about the family of author Alex Haley, from their capture in Africa in the 1700s through their emancipation, took America through those ugly days when blacks were property. Kunta ran away and paid dearly for it. There’s a famous scene after his recapture where he's whipped and forced to say his new name, Toby.

I’ve gone down this memory lane because the Rev. Jesse Jackson dredged up runaway slave-and-master imagery in connection with the whole farce that was LeBron James’s announcement that he was going to Miami. Jackson was all upset because Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert went ballistic over James bolting for Florida in an open letter to fans.

This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his ‘decision’ unlike anything ever ‘witnessed’ in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment....You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.

So, Jackson responded by, to borrow an analogy, blasting an ant with a nuclear weapon in the Associated Press.

He speaks as an owner of LeBron and not the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. His feelings of betrayal personify a slave-master mentality. He sees LeBron as a runaway slave.

Really? I mean, really? When we talked about this on “Morning Joe” today, I was beside myself. Sorta like when I was asked last Friday on “The Dylan Ratigan Show” about the nutty accusation that the tanning tax is a form of reverse racism on the part of President Obama against whites. Some things are so ridiculous that it hurts to even talk about them lest you give them more credibility than they deserve.

I don’t blame Gilbert or Cleveland or anyone else who feels stiffed by James one bit for being rip-roaring angry. Of course they feel betrayed. James was more than a basketball player or a cash cow to the Cavaliers management and the city of Cleveland. He was a source of pride for a city that still smarts when people talk about that river that caught fire -- 41 years ago. If the owner of the Cavaliers wants to vent in an online missive that could have been written with collage cut-outs of letters from Sports Illustrated let him. In the James-Gilbert relationship, we all know who the master is.

By Jonathan Capehart  | July 12, 2010; 11:28 AM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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Thank you for your comments. If only Eugene Robinson was not as narrow minded as Jesse Jackson, he could see the truth too.

Posted by: popopo | July 12, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Reverend Jesse Jackson has an opinion about almost everything.

But we have yet to hear his opinion about last week's revelation relating to his son, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.

I believe it is time for Reverend Jesse Jackson, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and Yusef Jackson to publicly respond to the testimony at the Blagojevich trial last week. It appears that Congressman Jackson was present at a meeting were it was discussed raising one million dollars for "Blago" and in-exchange Blago would appoint him to the United States Senate.

I recommend to the media that they not publicize any of Reverend Jackson's frequent comments until he answers "what went on regarding the vacant Senate seat"!

Posted by: mwhoke | July 12, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Love everything you have to say usually on MJ, and try to never miss an appearance, however, on this we sharply disagree...

There was a vengance in Gilbert's comments that went on to have a basketball player burned in effigy...we cannot allow anyone to drum up those actions or that history over a sports deal.

Saw you this morning, and could not believe how strongly I disagreed with your viewpoint...We can never become too flippant or dismissive regarding pop culture or "news events" Be Careful...and, we certainly can't let this type of pattern revolve around an african american male 25 years old, who made a smart business decision...the behavior; burning jersey, and Gilbert's slander is most distateful, and inappropriate. Gilbert should be fined by the NBA yesterday!! Reverend Jackson had a signifigant point, if only historical...

Posted by: sportznut1 | July 12, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

reverend jackson himself seems a slave of corporate greed.
lots of talents are needed to betray your team for real estate profits. truly revolting!!

Posted by: manittou | July 12, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Being a slave pays good these days.

Posted by: Jamz | July 12, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

references to slavery in a context like this does two detrimental things: 1. it trivializes the history of slavery in america; and, 2. it is a crying of wolf in regards to racism and makes people more cynical about racism as an issue and more apt to ignore it going forward. jackson has become a cartoon...

Posted by: funkey | July 12, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Jackson said "..."; I don’t really care.

However, I do find the hate – as evidenced last week on Morning Joe – palpable. I mean for goodness sakes the "employee – LeBron" had several "employers – NBA teams and cities" vying for his services and he chose one. Okay the TV thing may have been a little over the top but millions didn’t think so because they tuned in to ESPN (who used the opportunity to get viewers). Who are the losers – Cleveland and people who are putting way too much thought; time and energy into this decision?

Posted by: rlj1 | July 12, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I've always liked Lebron James. I thought he was a nice young man with a good head on his shoulders.He stayed out of trouble and played at a very high level. I thought he had the chance to possibly eclipse Michael Jordan. Not a big fan of Kobie Bryant. His arrogance and smug attitude just comes through the tv to easy and it is a turn off. And I really don't care how many rings he has they don't seem legit to me. But the way James left his team and hometown was heartless. Shouldn't it mean more to bring a title to your hometown, especially since they never had one! It seems like the cheap and easy way to win,instead of the hard fought struggle in life that we go thru. Sad commentary on the young people of today. Oh yeah Jackson is an idiot! It's not always about race. I am a black man and grew up in Chicago which was a very segregated city and you learn whats important and whats not;and this is just a young man making a decision about his future in a callous and heartless manner. Maybe the Bulls are better for not having him on their team in the long run! I'm glad Gilbert said what he said. James has not won anything and he acts as if going to Miami guarantees that. The "King James " moniker was a little hard to take. I don't recall Lebron James being in the bible.

Posted by: yangfulo66 | July 12, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

The LeBron soap opera has been puffed up more than the lips of a South Beach socialite.

Posted by: slatt321 | July 12, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

I am a 33 year old black male that is from the south and relocated to the DC. Let me tell you, because maybe you are unaware...yes, a slave master mentality still exists.

When I finished reading the letter from Dan Gilbert the day it was released, those were the first words out of my mouth.."slave master mentality". Its funny because I didn't grow up during Rev. Jackson's era and do not agree with everything he says and he had the same sentiments...but one thing is that I am "Aware". I agree with sportznut1 comment. We can not be dimissive of such a comment. There is quite of bit of owner and slave correlation in the letter. The owner is pretty much saying "How dare you leave after all that I have done for you". He could give a doggone about the fans. 1. Gilberts felt betrayed just as a slave owner would 2. most importantly, his money is leaving him.

I am not the one to quickly use the race card. But, this was in your face, if you are "Aware"

Posted by: legends6 | July 12, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

If this had been about a white player-using the same wording-would we be having this conversation? Yes racism still sadly exists in this country, but sometimes we need to be colorblind and examine the issue at hand.

Posted by: missgirl | July 12, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

oh com'n yangful066. "how he left the city is heartless" Every year athletes are traded and sometimes they find out on a news outlet. That's heartless!

Its a business. If anyone you should be upset with is Dan Gilbert. I am sure Lebron asked for more help. The owner just didn't want to invest properly. If your financial planner promises you a certain return on your investments by a certain time and he does not deliver, you have to make a sound business decision for yourself. Either stick it out and lose more money (in this case for Lebron, wear down his body for carrying such a load) or keep it moving to another partner that will help him reach his ultimate goal. They have to look out for themselves, their family and their future. Everyone should know this. Big business.

Posted by: legends6 | July 12, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

missgirl I don't think it would have been a letter. Tell you the truth. Brett Favre in my top three QB of all time... left Greenbay and retired. Come out of retirement and went to the Jets. No letter, no burning of jerseys. Yes disgruntled fans, but there was no sense of ownership from the fans (who are the owners of Greenbay if I am not mistakened) Brett also duked the NY Jets with a fake injury in order to be let go from the team to go play for the Vikings. He was the Jets savior. No letter just a fine. No outrage of how he is a coward orhe let the city down.

Posted by: legends6 | July 12, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

I can understand that-but Green Bay and New York have always had contending teams-no one player was supposed deliver the championship like in Cleveland. It's not LeBrons' fault that the city pinned it's hopes on him-they let themselves feel betrayed. Once again-not really a race thing. Another reason why I think that sports shouldn't be the only way to define whether a city is a winner or loser.

Posted by: missgirl | July 12, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

I actually thought Gilbert's letter was open to the charge of a touch of racism, but I thought Jesse Jackson went over the line (as usual). It was refreshing to read your article, up to the last (shocking) sentence, where you throw a touch of racism back in Gilbert's face and completely undermine your own credibility. Gilbert and LeBron are both powerful and wealthy in their own right. Gilbert can throw mud at LeBron because he can afford to.

Posted by: MosesCleveland | July 12, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

I actually thought Gilbert's letter was open to the charge of a touch of racism, but I thought Jesse Jackson went over the line (as usual). It was refreshing to read your article, up to the last (shocking) sentence, where you throw a touch of racism back in Gilbert's face and completely undermine your own credibility. Gilbert and LeBron are both powerful and wealthy in their own right. Gilbert can throw mud at LeBron because he can afford to.

Posted by: MosesCleveland | July 12, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

The more idiots like Jesse Jackson are given credence; the longer racism and the strong backlash against it will continue; never ending the problem. Jackson, remember, is the man who became famous by wiping the blood of Martin Luther King on his shirt shortly after his assassination for the TV cameras. Please stop printing anything that idiot says. ALSO, PLEASE SHUT WILBON UP BEFORE HE GOES INTO THE SAME CATEGORY AS DAVID DUKES, BUT, FOR THE "OTHER SIDE". WILBON IS A RACIST, THROUGH AND THROUGH. WHY IS HE TOLERATED? WHY DON'T YOU ALSO SIGN UP DAVID DUKES FOR COMMENTARY?

Posted by: KDSmallJr | July 12, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse

The idea of comparing LeBron's employment (with a salary in eight figures) to slavery was not original with Jesse Jackson. William Rhoden, an African-American sports columnist for the New York Times, made the analogy several days ago. Referring to Dan Gilbert Rhoden said "He must have thought he really owned LeBron James." Such a comparison dishonors the memory of those who really suffered in slavery.

Posted by: socaloralpleazer | July 12, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

I'm a 38 year old white male who grew up in a mixed race family. I'm just not seeing the slaveowner undertones. Both parties are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Employers feel scorned sometimes when someone doesn't show loyalty and the larger the ego - the more scorned. I worry that civil rights leaders like Rev Jackson run the risk of "the little boy who cried wolf" and when something happens that is truly a racial incident - people won't take him seriously. There tragically still is racism in our society, but this rant by a rich ego maniac is not one of them. It's just a ridiculous situation that hopefully will stop getting so much airtime.

Posted by: jpny1971 | July 12, 2010 8:37 PM | Report abuse

I hereby offer my services as a slave for one season to an NBA team. All I require is $20 million for my services. You can even call me Kunta Kinte or Toby for the season, your choice.

Posted by: randysbailin | July 12, 2010 8:46 PM | Report abuse

It is time for the good Reverend Jackson to take another very long vacation and then slip into anonymity just like after the Obama fiasco.

Jackson Sr is no longer relevant and through Jackson Jr the family has become part of the corrupt problem and not part of the solution.

Posted by: krankyman | July 12, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse

David Stern, Commissioner, NBA fined Dan Gilbert $100,000 today for his comments. He said the comments were "ill-advised, a little exreme ... and "imprudent." He also called Jesse Jackson's comments as mistaken.

Posted by: EIB216 | July 12, 2010 11:50 PM | Report abuse

Jesse Jackson is a one-trick pony...If he cannot find a microphone or television camera to shout, "racism" into, he may as well purchase a home on Irrelevance Avenue.

Come to think of it, it may be long past time to start house hunting.

Posted by: jpmenavich | July 13, 2010 6:02 AM | Report abuse

Hey, you need to accept responsibility for some of this nonsense - you play the race card every time I see you. And yes, you are right, is is absurd and those of us who have moved on are really really tired of it.

It's time to realize - we currently have a lot of men who are complete idiots/jerks/criminals who happen to be black. So? The list of stupid white people is just as long but never the center of the story.

When race is the main part of the story, people don't listen. That's your problem. Not fair? Too bad! Figure out a way around it and make your point another way and you will win- we all will win.

Posted by: dcjayhawk2 | July 13, 2010 6:57 AM | Report abuse

The comparison is not lebron to a slave. It is gilbert's mentality as a slave owner. When you start using "demeaning" words or actions along with the "how dare you, after all that I have down" approach then that is a sense of ownership and entitlement. The letter had both.

Posted by: legends6 | July 13, 2010 8:09 AM | Report abuse

This just in: Many owners and managers treat their subordinates with condescension, almost as children. EVERY sports owner has an enormous ego. Gilbert was wounded by James' hitting the road and expressed himself. Leave it to Jesse Jackson to stir the race pot when most rational people didn't see racism in Gilbert's statement, just the frustration of an egotistical owner who lost his main asset.

Posted by: randysbailin | July 13, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

i think trying to frame this as a racial issue is really stretching it. gilbert is mad lebron left cleveland. a lot of cleveland fans are. i see no racial undertones or overtones in the document at all...

Posted by: funkey | July 13, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

Ah, the NBA. The last bastion of young black male oppression. If only these un(der)educated overgrown children were free to do as they chose, instead of being forced to play a game for tens of millions of dollars a year.

Posted by: Ralphinjersey | July 13, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Hopefully this is one of the last times the media attempts to get the reaction of all african americans through Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. I'm sick of those over the hill camera hogs speaking on behalf of "their" people and community. I'm white and maybe I'm crazy, but I'll go out on a limb and guess that the millions of african americans in this country might just have a few different opinions about LeBron and the Cavs owner. They might even disagree a little, itty bit about this issue. They might, just might, not need some stupid, oversimplification of their views being expressed by Jesse or Al. Shame on the media for repeating this tired, old dance.

Posted by: Candressuhmoose | July 13, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

There may indeed be a master-slave relationship between team owners and players. But it's a relationship that players seem to enthusiastically endorse, judging from the millions of aspiring basketball stars. You don't hear many young African Americans saying they want to be the next Neil deGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist), or would even recognize him.

Posted by: EnemyOfTheState | July 13, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Who appointed Jesse Jackson to be spokesperson for anyone? Has anyone ever voted for Jesse Jackson to represent the thoughts and feelings of black people?

He's a race-monger who has extorted money from a wide array of victims.

Lebron James should have quietly done what was best for his career by holing up and expressing sympathy for his Cleveland faithful. The way he went about rubbing their noses in his abandonment of them was callous and cruel.

In other words, everyone in this mess looks bad, including Dan Gilbert.

Posted by: theduke89 | July 13, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

At times one must use Nuclear Weapons to kill an ant so that the ant don't multiply. When one incite others to do dreadful acts, the sky is the limit. If a member of Mr. James family meets an unfortunate incident, some would say the two are not related. With the ant down for the count he will not raise his head and incite others to do stupid acts.

Posted by: Randy9 | July 13, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

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