LOS ANGELES — LeBron James, responding to criticism from soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, vowed to continue to use his platform to speak on off-court issues he's passionate about.
"I would never shut up about things that are wrong," James said Friday after the Lakers snapped a four-game losing streak with a 102-93 victory over Portland.
Ibrahimovic, who recently played in L.A. with the Galaxy before returning to Europe, echoed previous criticism of James for not speaking solely about basketball.
"He is phenomenal at what he's doing, but I don't like when people have some kind of status, they go and do politics at the same time," Ibrahimovic said in an interview. "Do what you're good at. Do the category you do. I play football because I'm the best at playing football. I don't do politics. If I would be a political politician, I would do politics.
"That is the first mistake people do when they become famous and they become in a certain status. Stay out of it. Just do what you do best because it doesn't look good."
Asked if he had any response to Ibrahimovic, James said "nah" before responding.
"I preach about my people and I preach about equality. Social injustice. Racism. Systematic voter suppression. Things that go on in our community," he said. "Because I was a part of my community at one point and saw the things that was going on and I know what's going on still because I have a group of 300-plus kids at my school that are going through the same thing and they need a voice. And I'm their voice."
In addition to building a school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, James responded to a summer filled with racial tension by working with a nonprofit to fight voter suppression tactics. He's also been a critic of former President Trump.
In responding to Ibrahimovic, James, a minority owner of Liverpool Football Club in England, referenced 2018 claims of racism made by the soccer star because he wasn't blond or "because I am not Andersson or Svensson."
"I'm kind of the wrong guy to actually go at because I do my homework," James said.
In 2012, James and his teammates with the Miami Heat tweeted a photo of them wearing hoodies in protest of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Since then, he's been an active social critic and not shy about sharing his beliefs.
James cited pride in the next generation of athletes, like Boston Celtics All-Star Jaylen Brown and NFL players Patrick Mahomes and Alvin Kamara, for being unafraid to speak out.
"We've been hearing this for a long time. 'You should [feel] privileged. You should be thankful to be able to dribble a ball or run a football or be able to do the 100-yard dash or be able to swing a baseball bat and things of that nature. You shouldn't be able to speak about anything else, no matter if it's right or wrong, you should just do that,' " James said. "But that's not the case. That's not the case anymore.
"As long as I'm around, it won't be the case for a long time."(c)2021 the Los Angeles Times Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.