It’s not clear whether political endorsements from athletes and movie stars really influence voter behavior, but when it comes to basketball, there is no bigger name than LeBron James. That’s especially true in the closely matched presidential swing state of Ohio.
The four-time NBA MVP led his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to their first ever NBA championship in June. And today, James’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton is front page news in the Akron Beacon Journal.
“Only one person running truly understands the struggles of an Akron child born into poverty. And when I think about the kinds of policies and ideas the kids in my foundation need from our government, the choice is clear,” wrote James in an op-ed published in the Journal and posted exclusively online by Business Insider. “That candidate is Hillary Clinton.”
Boarding a campaign plane Monday in White Plains, N.Y., Clinton told reporters she is “so excited” for the endorsement.
James writes at length in the op-ed about the work he is doing in Akron to help children growing up in difficult circumstances, as he did. “There are a lot of people who want to tell kids who grew up like me and looked like me that they just don’t have anything to look forward to,” James writes. “That’s dead wrong.”
It is unclear whether this is a reference to Donald Trump’s recent comments about crime and urban decay, asking black voters “what the hell do you have to lose?”
James is often compared to basketball legend Michael Jordan, in terms of skill on the court and the ability to rack up product endorsements. But one of the biggest differences between the two men is their approach to politics. Jordan was notably apolitical, while James has spoken out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, endorsed President Obama (though in a more low key way) and is now publicly throwing his endorsement to Clinton.
In July, as James joined three other top NBA stars in delivering remarks at the ESPYS, he called on their fellow athletes to be more socially active. James nodded to the man who the awards would honor that night, the late Mohammed Ali — a man who had his own legacy of social and political activism.
“Let’s use this moment as a call to action to all professional athletes to educate ourselves, explore these issues, speak up, use our influence and renounce all violence and, most importantly, go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources, help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them,” James said at the awards. “We all have to do better.”
The Black Lives Matter movement has galvanized athletes like James to be more visibly politically active than many athletes have been in more than a generation. James, in his op-ed, writes “we must address the violence, of every kind, the African-American community is experiencing in our streets and seeing on our TVs.”
James writes that he isn’t a politician and doesn’t know all that it will take to end the violence, but adds “I do know we need a president who brings us together and keeps us unified. Policies and ideas that divide us more are not the solution. We must all stand together — no matter where we are from or the color of our skin. And Hillary is running on the message of hope and unity that we need.”
And James adds that he believes Clinton will build on the legacy of his “good friend” President Obama.
Clinton isn’t the only candidate in this race to earn high profile sports endorsements. Donald Trump has earned a raft of endorsements from athletes and coaches including retired coach Bobby Knight, golfer John Daly and retired NFL player Terrell Owens.
As NPR’s Scott Detrow wrote earlier this year, some of Trump’s endorsements are a “rogues’ gallery of controversial and outspoken athletes and coaches” including figures known for chair throwing and ear biting (Knight and boxer Mike Tyson).