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LeBron James’ words on UNLV shooting speak to urgency of the moment

Los Angeles Lakers star draws attention to lost lives, government’s inaction

The last time LeBron James wore a hoodie to make a social justice statement, it was more than 10 years ago, when he and his then-Miami Heat teammates offered a profound tribute to slain Black youth Trayvon Martin.

We don’t know for sure whether James’ decision to wear a hoodie during his news conference Wednesday before the semifinals of the inaugural NBA in-season tournament was intentional or incidental.

His words, however? Quite deliberate.

“It just goes back to what I said before about guns in America. I think it’s such a longer conversation, but we keep dealing with the same story, this same conversation every single time it happens, and it just continues to happen,” James said. “The ability to get a gun, the ability to do these things over and over and over, and there’s been no change is literally ridiculous. It makes no sense that we continue to lose innocent lives, on campuses, schools, at shopping markets and movie theaters and all types of stuff. It’s ridiculous.”

I don’t have to imagine where James’ mind went as he expressed his angst with our government’s inaction on gun laws just three miles from a mass shooting at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on Wednesday that left three people dead and one injured. In July 2022, my wife and I went to Vegas for my 39th birthday. We caught the first show of singer Usher’s residency, among other amazing sights on the Las Vegas Strip. I’ll never forget our return to the hotel on the penultimate night of our trip. I hopped out of our Lyft and opened the double doors to the hotel and discovered a mob running in our direction.

“Shooter!” one of them yelled. My wife and I, among many others, ran for our lives. Just the day before, we had passed a host of familiar hotels as tourists – the Park MGM, the Bellagio, Caesars Palace. That night, we hurried past them in terror, hoping to find a safe haven. As it turned out, it was a false alarm, but the fears of hotel guests were certainly justified after the mass shooting in 2017 in which 58 people were killed and more than 850 wounded in Vegas, the deadliest by a single gunman in modern U.S. history. I thought about a lot during that nightmarish run through the night, when I protected my wife and wondered whether I would see my kids again.

With a lifetime of experiences on the basketball court and in business, James recently reminded us of his priorities – “family over everything” was how he put it. He didn’t say it explicitly, but seeing another shooting on a college campus, with his oldest son at USC, had to be unnerving.

Flowers were placed on campus after a Dec. 6 shooting left three dead at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus on Dec. 7 in Las Vegas.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

The temptation to be cynical when it comes to James – or any celebrity for that matter – is always present. James’ clarifications of his tweets about China and his delayed response in the aftermath of the 2012 slaying of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland by a police officer were understandably criticized. And yet, even though we as a society prioritize celebrity to a fault, the words of James are far from trite, particularly about gun safety and policy.

It is a long-standing issue, as evidenced by a campaign that the NBA participated in almost 10 years ago. Golden State Warriors guards Stephen Curry and Chris Paul, along with NBA superstar Carmelo Anthony lent their voices in 2015 to ads for Everytown For Gun Safety, a campaign that put them at odds with the National Rifle Association. NBA officials said at the time that the ads were not intended to be political, but informational.

“The public service announcement airing during our Christmas Day games highlights victims’ and a few of our players’ experiences with gun violence and is solely intended to raise awareness about the issue of personal safety in our communities,” Mike Bass, the NBA’s chief spokesman, told The New York Times.

It’s certainly cynical to call commentaries on gun violence low-hanging fruit when there are reports that America has broken its own sordid record on mass shootings in a year, which didn’t include the Las Vegas slayings on Wednesday. Detractors will try to muddy the waters with conservative trolling or the mention of Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant’s behavior. The conscientiousness and star power of a humanitarian who founded a public school cuts through the noise.

I’ve watched cynicism manifest itself into political paralysis over the past few years. People have made dangerous concessions regarding gun violence, police brutality and civil rights. There are certainly limits to even the luminous power of James, but I see no such limitations on the power of the people.

We must meet mass shootings with mass movements, and the King’s words are a necessary reminder of the urgency of the moment.

Ken J. Makin is a freelance writer and the host of the Makin’ A Difference podcast. Before and after commentating, he’s thinking about his wife and his sons.