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LeBron James, a six-time all-star, announced Thursday night that he'll be taking his talent to the Miami Heat this fall. "I want to win a championship and I feel like I can compete down there," he said on his ESPN special. "That's the only reason we play this game, to win championships."
James and his business partner Maverick Carter both expressed their belief that race played a factor in the backlash the star athlete faced after announcing that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency this past summer, reports CNN.
In the middle of an interview with CNN reporter Soledad O'Brien, she asked James and Carter if they suspected that racial animus played a part in the public outcry over "The Decision," James prime time, made-for-TV special that aired on ESPN in July that was widely panned as being tone deaf and self-indulgent.
"I think so at times," James said. "It's always, you know, a race factor."
"It definitely played a role in some of the stuff coming out in the media, things that were written. For sure," Carter said.
However, both men also admitted that the way the announcement played out certainly affected James' reputation as well.
"The execution could've been a little better and I take some of the blame for that," Carter said.
Lost in the furor over his choice, LeBron said, was the fact that the show raised $3 million for the Boys & Girls Club of America. With a half-smile, James noted that he would "take heat" to help out children anytime.
While it's hard to measure exactly how much of an effect race actually had on the public's perception of James, some evidence is provided by examining LeBron's "Q" rating. The statistic measures the familiarity and appeal of celebrities, brands and companies. Months prior to his free agency, James had a positive rating of 24, among the highest the Q Scores Company, which issues the rankings, had ever seen.
In the wake of "The Decision," though, James numbers plummeted generally, but there was a sharp split along racial lines. From January 2010, James' positive rating among blacks fell to 39 from 52, but his negative ratings barely shifted, going from 14 to 15. According to Henry Schafer, the vice president of the Q Scores company, that seemed to indicate a shift in opinion from positive to largely neutral.
However, among non-blacks, James positive numbers fell and his negatives skyrocketed, going from 24 to 44.
Vincent Thomas of ESPN believes that the racial gulf can be somewhat explained by the phenomenon known as "black protectionism," under which people close ranks around a member of a community who is viewed as being unfairly attacked.
He also argues that Brett Favre's annual "will he play or will he retire" dance is just as self-indulgent as anything LeBron did and that it makes little sense that James, who committed no actual crime, is more disliked than suspended Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is out four games due to allegations of sexual misconduct.
But with the season set to start just over a month from now, perhaps race will recede into the background and the only reason to dislike LeBron will have to do with the color of his jersey and not the color of his skin.