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The Basketball Hall of Famer made his comments before the Lakers’ loss to the Denver Nuggets and then expanded on his remarks after they captured the spotlight of social media.
“Some of the things he’s done and said are really beneath him, as far as I can see,” he told ESPN. “Some of the great things that he’s done, he’s standing on both sides of the fence almost, you know? It makes it hard for me to accept that when he’s committed himself to a different take on everything. It’s hard to figure out where he’s standing. You’ve got to check him out every time.”
Abdul-Jabbar, who has been critical of James in the past for some of his actions on and off the court, said he has high expectations for James.
“Absolutely, [I have] a higher expectation for him because he understands the issues and [has] spoken to them quite forcefully and eloquently. I think he has so much going for him in terms of respect and accomplishment and he shouldn’t stoop to those moments,” he said.
In an expanded statement to the Los Angeles Times, Abdul-Jabbar acknowledged he expressed his admiration for James when he wrote about him for Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsperson of the Year” in 2020. He said his respect for the basketball star has only grown since then.
“In the two years since I wrote that, my respect and admiration has only grown for LeBron as I watched him champion worthwhile causes while maintaining his status as an elite athlete. As he closes is on my all-time scoring record, I have been a cheerleader urging him on, happy to pass the mantle to someone so worthy as an athlete and a person,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
Abdul-Jabbar said he still believed James to be a “hero” and one of the greatest basketball players ever.
“On occasion I have chided LeBron when I thought he was dropping the ball when it came to supporting the community. But I did so in the spirit of a loving older brother offering guidance, whether wanted or not. So, when I said that he has done some things he should be embarrassed about, that wasn’t a slam or a barb or even a finger wag, it was me recapping some of what I’d said in the past,” he added.
“The Sports Illustrated article was an homage to LeBron for winning the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award for his role in social activism. So, when I think he may be veering from the path that made him win that award, I’ll mention it. I’m a journalist. That’s what I do. But I believe LeBron is strong enough and gracious enough to understand that I have only love for him in my heart.”