12-05-2016  12:40 pm      •     
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LeBron James plays for Cleveland Cavaliers against Knicks

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) drives past New York Knicks' Cole Aldrich (45) during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

I was prepared this week to write an article on sports and fatherhood. Instead, I was struck by the season opening basketball game of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, October 30th, featuring the return of Akron, Ohio's native son, LeBron James. With hours of national sports coverage and thousands of fans who traveled downtown to enjoy a free concert from Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons—including live commentary from Charles Barkley and jokes from comedian/actor Kevin Hart—the event was overwhelming.

The city unveiled a new 10-story high LeBron James banner, featured six hours of fan experience from Nike, invited fans to game watching parties at more than 40 bars and restaurants, and unveiled a humungous, state-of-the-art scoreboard inside Quickens Loan Arena, where those with tickets to the game received free LeBron James T-shirts, a season schedule magnet for their refrigerators and twenty-thousand glow-in-the-dark wands to wave during the game announcements in high-definition 3D.


Of course, the game was sold out, with superstar musician, Cleveland native and part team owner, Usher Raymond and his protégé Justin Bieber sitting courtside, along with filmmaker, Spike Lee, football Hall of Famer turned TV star, Michael Strahan, and dozens of other national and local celebrities all to see the homecoming of LeBron. Nike even unveiled a new commercial, where "King James" invites the entire city of Cleveland into a team huddle and prep-talk to win a championship in classic black and white film. 


It felt like I was watching the NFL Super Bowl, but it was only Cleveland's first game of the season with LeBron back, featuring his new teammates; Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Deon Waiters, Tristan Thomas and more. It was also the season premiere of new Cleveland head coach, David Blatt.
By the way, the game included NBA All-Star an Olympian Carmelo Anthony and his New York Knicks, with the second game of their new head coach, Derek Fisher. And after all of the crazy build-up, LeBron James went on to have a horrible outing in a 95-90 loss. At one point in the first half, he was 1-9 shooting with four turnovers, on his way to 17 points and eight turnovers.


I felt sorry for the dude. I could only imagine how anxious he was to get it all over with. At the end of the day, he still needed two and half hours worth of energy to play a basketball game before granting a hundred post-game interviews about the loss. Not only that, I read his wife Savannah finally gave birth their first baby girl to add to his excitement and exhaustion on Monday night, October 27th.


But with all of the sports commentators speaking about how amazing the opening night was, I couldn't help thinking about the American hypocrisy of sports and race. I've been to the city of Cleveland on several occasions and know people from the area, as well as from other cities of Ohio. And it's the same old American story; blacks live on one part of town in poverty, while whites live on the other in wealth. And race relations still don't mix like you would think they would in year 2014.


So I watched the rehashed stories of white Cleveland Cavaliers fans who angrily burned LeBron James jerseys just four years ago when he left the city to take his talents to South Beach, and I chuckled at their audacity. Thousands of these same angry white fans now profess to love him again, including Cavaliers owner, Dan Gilbert, who was forced to humble himself and apologize for his tantrum and public letter, which lambasted LeBron and his character.


I'm sorry, folks, I know we all look at sports as the perfect meeting ground between race, gender, class, creed and culture, but it continues to astonish me how the white American populace could care less about Lebron James' twin brother, if he wasn't blessed with the same freakish athletic skills to play basketball. And if James had such a twin brother, would these fans bother to even buy him a drink? Not unless he brought LeBron with him.


As we inch closer to year 2015, we still have millions of white Americans who would never read this sports column just because it has the word "black" in it, identifying a people and culture that they refuse to learn anything about. And if black athletes couldn't dunk, shoot, rebound, or pass a basketball; run, pass, catch, intercept, kick or punt a football; or throw, catch, hit or pitch a baseball, white Americans wouldn't care to know them either.

Omar Tyree is a New York Times bestselling author, an NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Fiction and a professional journalist @ www.OmarTyree.com

 

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