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2017 NBA Playoffs

LeBron James spoke of Emmett Till on the eve of the NBA Finals

Racist graffiti stops talk of basketball in Oakland

OAKLAND, California — The day before he was to play on basketball’s biggest stage, LeBron James spoke about what it’s like to be one of the world’s most famous athletes and still not be immune from having racist graffiti scrawled on the front gate of your home.

As he sat on the dais at a news conference Wednesday afternoon in Oracle Arena, he somberly brought up the memory of lynching victim Emmett Till and his open casket.

“Hate in America, especially for African-Americans, is living every day,” he said, and we all sat up in the room and listened closely.

“And even though it’s concealed most of the time, we know people hide their faces and will say things about you when they see that smile on your face. It’s alive every single day. I think back to Emmett Till’s mom actually, and the reason that she had an open casket is because she wanted to show the world what her son went through as far as a hate crime and being black in America.

“No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is tough. We’ve got a long way to go for us as a society and for us as African-Americans until we feel equal in America.”

The front gate of a home belonging to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James is freshly repainted Wednesday in Los Angeles. Police are investigating after someone spray-painted a racial slur on the gate on the eve of the NBA Finals.

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Welcome to the NBA Finals, America. Welcome to our diseased country, where Mamie Till’s decision to publicly show her 14-year-old son’s mutilated body, lynched in 1955 Mississippi, is on the heart and mind of the world’s greatest player today.

The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating the graffiti — reportedly the N-word — spray-painted outside his Los Angeles home, an early morning discovery that was eventually relayed to the owner, who is here preparing to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 on Thursday night. It is being characterized as a hate crime.

And here’s the thing: Like any father whose domicile has been violated, James wishes he were home to speak with his children about the sickness and senselessness that makes people scrawl such things on a black man’s gate. He doesn’t want to be here at the moment, and who can blame him?

He spoke on the same day a noose was found at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. According to the U.S. Park Police, tourists found the noose inside the museum’s exhibition on segregation Wednesday afternoon. This came after a noose was found hanging from a tree outside the nearby Hirshhorn Museum on the National Mall on May 26.

In its statement condemning the act, the Smithsonian referenced nooses hung on the “Duke University campus, the Port of Oakland in California, a fraternity house at the University of Maryland, a middle school in Maryland, and at a high school in Lakewood, California. All of them seem to be part of a larger wave of violence, intimidation and hate crimes.”

Coast to coast, we have these evil fractals flying around, meteorites of racial division. And James sits there, calmly, purposefully, unable to talk about “The Block” from Game 7 last year or the Cavaliers-Warriors trilogy. Because real race talk just invaded the Finals.

This is sadly where we are, people: A professional sports arena, perhaps the most unsegregated place in the nation — at least since the late 1960s — is now just another place to talk about how far apart we still are.

Rather than a gripping NBA rivalry, James spoke of unceasing racism. About regretting that he could not be home to talk to his kids in person, about what a messy, sad world we live in Wednesday night instead of FaceTiming them.

“As I sit here on the eve of one of the greatest sporting events that we have in sports, race and what’s going on comes again,” he began. “On my behalf and my family’s behalf, but I look at it as, if this is to shed a light and keep the conversation going, on my behalf, then I’m OK with it. My family is safe. They’re safe, and that’s the most important. But it just goes to show that racism will always be a part of the world, a part of America.”

James got up and walked out of the room. I wanted to tell him how sorry I was that he had to deal with something like that, how sorry I was that any person of color has to consistently compartmentalize the venom and hurt that keeps coming from inside sick folks’ hearts just to do their jobs and get through the day.

But the next time I saw James, moments later, he was laughing with teammates on the practice floor of the Oracle, dunking playfully in a 94-foot hardwood sanctuary.

James was moving on, moving forward — in a world that still acts stuck in 1955 Mississippi.

Mike Wise is a former senior writer and columnist at The Undefeated. Barack Obama once got to meet him.