Enes Kanter and LeBron James are known to be some of the most outspoken players in the NBA regarding social issues. Kanter, a native of Turkey, never seems to shy away from an opportunity to bring awareness to the political climate in his homeland. Like Kanter, LeBron James spoke out on issues facing the black community in years past and continues to do so today. While Kanter is a good NBA player, he is nowhere near the level of influence of James, so when James speaks, people listen. However, there seems to be a particular issue that James is reluctant to talk much about these days, NBA players and vaccination.
“We’re not talking about something that’s, you know, political or racism or police brutality. So I don’t feel like, for me personally, I should get involved in what other people should do with their bodies and their livelihoods.”LeBron James, The Atlantic
While this might come as a surprise to many, it is worth noting that James does not speak on all societal issues, but merely confines his comments to those he feels have an overwhelmingly one-sided argument. The world was in an uproar after the killing of George Floyd, along with similar injustices faced by the black community. James choose to speak out on this as a prominent member of the black community. On the other hand, vaccination is a somewhat polarizing topic in the United States, given that despite being manufacturers of the jab, only 56.5% of the American population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Enes Kanter believes that LeBron James should be educating the people who follow him about the importance of getting vaccinated, citing that his influence will help save lives.
“Obviously, LeBron James, he’s one of the faces of the league, and he should be the first one to go out there and say, ‘Listen, everyone. I got the vaccine, and I’m encouraging everyone, my community, everyone, basketball fans, non-basketball fans and sports fans are just going out there and get this vaccine, so we can save other lives.‘ When I heard that, I just couldn’t believe it. But I hope he can educate himself about this vaccination and inspire and encourage other people around him.”
Enes Kanter on CNN via Twitter
Today, 95% of NBA players are fully vaccinated, but some of the game’s biggest stars are still reluctant to get the vaccine. In response to this, the NBA announced it would be penalizing unvaccinated players according to the state laws governing the cities of their respective teams. LeBron James himself is vaccinated but only recently provided the information. Since then, BasketballNews.com has reported that Andrew Wiggins went ahead and got vaccinated, making him available for all the Warriors’ games this coming season.
As the NBA season draws closer, the NBA’s goal of being 100% vaccinated by opening day is looking bleak, as there are still prominent players who have cited personal reasons for not wanting to get the vaccine. The NBA can continue to fine these players if they wish to, but Irving and Beal likely have the financial means to stand by their personal choice. Now, the pressure is on the owners and front offices to get anti-vaxxers on their teams to get jabbed because their team’s success and revenue potential are at stake.
Kanter is not wrong to say that James is one of the faces of the league and that his opinion matters. However, the issue of vaccination is entirely different from that of social injustice against the black community. First of all, most of the NBA is from the black community, so securing a united stand as one league and union is not as polarizing as a conversation amongst players and team representatives. Second, vaccination is one of the issues that is dividing the United States, and leaning on one side of this issue may not be very smart in terms of ratings. The vaccines are for everyone’s safety, but many don’t believe that, and the NBA potentially trying to influence these people’s choices could spell trouble for the league’s struggling ratings.
Adam Silver wants to incentivize players to get vaccinated so that he can put out the best possible product on the floor at all times. For a player like James, as long as he is out there playing, he gets to connect with his fans and win ball games and at the end of the day, that’s his primary objective. Therefore, speaking to fans about what he believes to be a personal choice such as vaccination is tricky for The King. Despite these astronomical expectations the world has for James, he knows where the buck stops for him and his opinion.
LeBron James did not get to where he is today by taking every open shot. He did it by carefully calculating situations and acting accordingly, and it’s been a recipe for success for the better part of a decade. It is wise for him not to abandon this strategy of his right now.